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Disaster nightmare continues in Tx

Scores of Hurricane Dolly survivors find it difficult to get any attention or assistance in struggle just to survive.

BY PJ HELLER | COMBES, TX | September 18, 2008

Eddieca Solis felt like she was in a disaster movie, battling to survive against the forces of a furious Mother Nature. Only for Solis, it wasn't a movie. It was the real thing.

"It's just a miracle that we're here," said Solis, still haunted by memories of hunkering down with her mother in an old and somewhat decrepit mobile home as Hurricane Dolly bashed south Texas as a Category 2 storm with 100 mph winds.

"If she (Dolly) had been a Category 3, this house wouldn't be standing right now," Solis said, sitting in the mobile home that she shares with her mother and 11-year-old daughter.

"It was an awful experience that I went through and I told my mom, 'Never again will I stay in a mobile home when another hurricane comes. I will not stay in a mobile home,'" she said.

While the 31-year-old Solis and her mother, Marcarita Resendez, survived the storm — Solis' daughter was at her father's apartment when Dolly came ashore July 23 — their nightmare continues today due to damages sustained by the mobile home and their inability so far to get any help, financial or otherwise.

Falling tree branches knocked out the air-conditioning units in the trailer, forcing the family to rely on fans to try to keep cool in the sweltering south Texas heat. Extension cords snake across the floor, connecting the fans to the few electrical outlets that still work.

In the bedroom shared by Solis and her daughter Genesis, a thick wooden board is mounted against the back wall. It was nailed up by Solis during the height of the hurricane, the only thing that prevented the wall from being blown apart by the storm.

Resendez briefly ventured outside the trailer during the hurricane to retrieve a box of nails as Solis strained to hold back the wall.

"She said, 'Mom, don’t go out,'" Resendez recalled. "I was afraid to go out. I need to. I need those nails. I don't have much of a choice. I looked up at the sky and said, 'Lord, you know what I need to do. I'm in your hands. I have to go out there and get those big nails.' So I went and got those big nails and then right away came back inside."

Solis said she then began "hammering like crazy."

At the same time, water was flowing into the room, soaking the wall, the floor, clothing and some of the bedding. Mold and mildew now are a problem in the trailer, especially for Solis' daughter who suffers from allergies.

"She gets a runny nose, itchy throat, she even gets a fever sometimes," Solis said. "It's all from the moisture and mildew and everything. It's not good for her. I have to constantly take her to the clinic."

"She's got allergies and school already has started and she cannot be missing school every day just because of that," Resendez added.

Health problems caused by mold could also prove to be an issue in the future for others whose homes were damaged by Dolly.

"It [health problems] might not show right now, but as time passes there's going to start being some problems physically," Solis predicted.

Compounding the moisture and mold problems for Resendez and Solis is the fact that there was also water damage in the trailer's bathroom. When it rains, which it does frequently, water continues to seep through the wall into the bedroom and bathroom damaged by Dolly.

The ceiling tiles in the bedroom, meantime, are dangling precariously, looking like they could come crashing down at any time. A window at the front of the trailer is bowed out and could easily be pushed out by applying only a small amount of pressure on the inside wall.

The ground also is sodden and pools of water on her property, as well as throughout the neighborhood of mobile homes, have become breeding grounds for swarms of mosquitoes.

"The mosquitoes are terrible," said neighbor Mike Prather, whose mobile home sits on a low-lying lot and looks more like an island surround by water. "At nighttime, you can't even walk out the door."

Prather, who lives in the trailer with his mother, stepfather, wife and two children, said the yard resembles a swimming pool whenever there is a heavy rain. Water from other yards drain into his lot. Boards atop a couple of automobile tires serve as a footbridge connecting a walkway from the trailer to cars in the wet and muddy driveway.

Like Solis and Resendez, Prather and his family opted to ride out Dolly in their mobile home, which he said was anchored down. A new roof which was put on shortly before the storm helped limit damage, although there are some leaks and water stains inside, he said.

After Dolly passed, Prather said the family stayed in the trailer despite the fact there was no electricity for a week, the weather was hot, "it smelled really, really bad" and all the food spoiled in the refrigerator.

Resendez and Solis said they left their trailer after Dolly hit, staying with different family members in Harlingen over four days.

"I had to go. There was no light here. There were a lot of mosquitoes and the smell was terrible, awful. I couldn’t take it," Resendez said.

"It smelled like a sewer," Solis added. "I was getting sick to my stomach."

"My house was in bad shape," Resendez said. "It's still in bad shape. It smells. There's a lot of mold in that bedroom."

It might have been worse. The trailer, which Resendez has lived in for about 26 years, is on blocks and wasn't anchored down during the storm. It somehow managed to remain upright.

Resendez and Solis said they have little choice, due to their financial situation, but to remain in the trailer. An application for government assistance was denied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They said they didn't plan to appeal.

"In my situation here, I do need help," said Resendez, who has health problems of her own that prevent her from working full time. "I can't fix it. I can't. I can't afford it. I can't do that.

"I'm on my own," she said. "I don't have insurance on my house. I work only 3.5 hours a week as a [home health-care] provider. I don't have no other income coming in my house. I'm a divorced single mom and I take care of the house. Right now, I have to pay my taxes also."

Solis said she was planning to attend school in the spring and hoped to finish college.

"We do need help," she said. "Financially we cannot afford to fix the damages the hurricane did. We don't have the money."

Help could be forthcoming through a planned faith-based, long-term recovery committee. That group, Faith Communities for Disaster Recovery, has been in the planning stages for several weeks and is expected to soon be officially up and running.

Resendez and Solis both express some bitterness at having been rejected by FEMA for assistance.

"I've heard of other people who have been helped," Resendez said. "They are in better situations than me. They have other income, they work full time. I myself don't have enough income coming in my house and I was denied. I was neglected."

Solis was more blunt, suggesting that some people received assistance to which they were not entitled.

"I'm saying the truth," she said. "There are some people that take advantage of this and the people who really need it don't get help."

For its part, FEMA reported that as of Aug. 29, more than 34,000 applications for assistance have been received in the Rio Grande Valley counties of Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy and that more than $32 million has been approved for individuals, families, businesses and communities. The deadline for applying for FEMA assistance is Sept. 30.

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