In uncertain two-year-old shuffles, my niece followed my sister through the Super Wal-Mart where they were buying groceries. When they came to the checkout-line, my niece turned to the woman in line behind them and said, “My house is broken. Is your house broken?” The woman behind them said no, her house was fine. Then she offered to buy my sister’s groceries as my sister endeavored to explain that they didn’t need help and were living with her parents until their house could be fixed. However, the woman working the register overheard and started crying as she was not so lucky.
There are snaking lines where charities are giving out free rice, shoes, bottled water. Standing in one such line this morning, my mom wondered what kind of a toll all this will have on my nephew, who at six is experiencing the aftermath of his second major hurricane. I reminded my mom that this was her second major hurricane, and she’s lived in the area for forty years.
Insurance adjustors squirm through the wreckage like snakes in polo shirts with oily grins and slippery handshakes. I hear story after story of people being refused coverage. One of them tried to tell my friend’s parents that they could not cover the crack in the foundation of the house because there is no way that it could be hurricane damage. Hmm…let’s do some math. Six feet of water in a fifteen hundred square foot house…that’s 9000 cubic feet of water, at 62 pounds per cubic foot, we have 558,000 pounds of water. So, um, yeah, that crack was definitely caused by the furniture they had in the house.
My sister’s been no luckier. Her insurance group, Farmer’s insurance is trying to weasel out of paying anything for their house, which had about seven feet of water covering the first floor. They had just bought that house a few months ago, and finished the downstairs renovations in August, so this is especially disheartening. They have hurricane coverage which in their policy is supposed to cover storm surge. That battle is ongoing, and I think every single resident of Bridge City is fighting it.
Many people are living in mobile homes on their driveways. My mom has heard that only ten percent of homes in Bridge City didn’t get inundated by the rising waters from the surge. There are rumors that the entire south eastern subdivision of town, the part of town closest to the marshlands, will be condemned and bulldozed. Every house has been turned inside-out; sheetrock, furniture, carpet, paneling, pictures, clothes, cabinets are piled in front yards. The air reeks of mildew and mold. At least one school is mired in three feet of black sludge – a combination of tar, heavy metals, and mud.
And so the stories keep rolling in. Everybody down there is struggling to get by, to figure out what to do next. What can we do? We can call insurance companies urging them to act responsibly. Farmer’s number is: 1-800-435-7764. But at the end of the day, I still want to throw tools, water, food, and clothes into the back of my truck and start driving toward Texas. But, what can I do when I get there?
I can’t do anything. I can sit here, three thousand miles away and marvel at the insight of one little girl. In some intuitive way, she knows that all we can do now is reach out and support one another through these rising tragedies. All our houses are broken. And no one is coming to fix them.