‘We’re still here’

Published 1:06 am Sunday, October 9, 2011

The recovery in Aurora continues, albeit slowly, over a month after Hurricane Irene. (WDN Photo/Jonathan Clayborne)

AURORA — The house on North Fifth Street is empty of people.
It has that in common with neighboring dwellings.
Next to the home is a small, box-shaped trailer wrapped in white vinyl siding.
Two sets of wooden steps offer entry to the park-model housing, provided by the federal government.
This is the temporary home of Arthur Harris III and his family.
The house next door is where homeowner Harris lived before Hurricane Irene pushed 19 inches of water into his dwelling.
Harris, his son, daughter and fiancée sloshed through water that was chest-deep on the father at the height of Irene’s flooding on Aug. 27.
The family evacuated to Main Street and, soon after, the town fire department — the only shelter approximately 50 people could find as Irene ripped their community apart.
Harris lost most everything he owns, including his vehicle, to Irene’s estimated 7-foot surge.
Recently, and well after the storm, Harris was fortunate enough to get the first “FEMA trailer” in town.
“Being that we were homeowners, we didn’t have a problem,” he said.
Harris is able to stay on his property in anticipation of rebuilding, which he estimates could take six months.
Other people on his street are still displaced, among them his sister’s mother-in-law, his aunt and uncle.
“They lost everything, too,” he said of the couple.
Nearby houses tell the story all too well.
A dumpster full of debris is parked in front of one home.
Pink insulation dots the landscape here and there.
A great deal of cleanup has been done, but there’s a long way to go.
Not far from Harris’ place is the Deliverance Temple Church of God in Christ.
The roughly 25-member church was awash in 36 inches of rain and river as Irene’s eye churned just to the east.
The church pews floated and bumped against one another in the flood, ending their limited journey upside down.
The Rev. Jimmy Boyd has been pastor of Deliverance Temple for 33 years.
For now, his congregation is meeting at a place in Vanceboro. Boyd isn’t sure when the now-mold-ridden church will be used again, or if the building, which may be 100 years old, can ever be made suitable for services.
“Right now we’re undecided because there’s so much mold in here,” said Boyd, pointing to mold-encrusted ceiling tiles.
“So much damage,” he added.
With labor to be done and little money to do it, the church has turned to the U.S. government — most likely for a low-interest loan from the Small Business Administration.
But for many Aurora residents, a lack of housing is the central problem.
Well over a month after Irene, unknown numbers of those residents are awaiting temporary housing or other forms of help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has on its books about 150 cases of local people whose homes need repairs, said Bonnie Jones, a volunteer who lives here.
Last week, Jones was staffing Aurora’s UMCOR office, located on Main Street near the Aurora Fossil Museum.
Jones was still handing out bleach, cleaning buckets, bottled water and other recovery supplies while her husband, retired minister George Jones, tracked down aid seekers who will need the skills of the licensed contractor yet to be hired by the church group.
Though Irene is long gone, Aurora’s people still need a hand up, Bonnie Jones pointed out.
“We have story after story, and nobody seems to know that we’re still here,” she said.
FEMA aid doesn’t always come quickly, and can be difficult to obtain, said George Jones, an Aurora commissioner and mayor pro tempore.
“It takes a long time to get through their red tape,” he said, adding, “People seem to have a hard time getting the resources that they need.”
Following a disaster, FEMA’s first priority is to get qualified people into temporary housing, be it a motel or a rental unit, said Renee Bafalis, a spokeswoman for the agency.
“A lot of these areas, those things didn’t exist,” Bafalis said.
And there were other wrinkles as well, she related.
“The problem was, with this particular disaster, a lot of these areas are in floodplains and normally we don’t put temporary housing units in floodplains,” Bafalis said. “So there had to be some exceptions made, and the state had to make the determination as to whether they wanted to move forward with that. … That took a little extra time to do, to work out all the kinks in that system.”
Back on Harris’ land, the family is inching its way toward normal life.
“It was a natural disaster, something we couldn’t do anything about,” Harris reasoned.
No one here was killed during Irene, and that’s something of a miracle the Joneses indicated.
Asked if there’s anything people outside Aurora should know, Harris said, “That’s it’s a blessing to be alive.”