For the past months, FEMA Corps members Christopher Coles and Casey Regnier, both 22, have been on a number of site visits with the FEMA officials who check on the progress of Baton Rouge area residents living in FEMA mobile homes while making repairs to their storm-damaged houses.
Coles, of Rockford, Michigan, and Regnier, of Neenah, Wisconsin, are part of a national service initiative through the federal AmeriCorps program. FEMA Corps provides opportunities for young adults to volunteer with FEMA and gain valuable emergency management experience. More than 300 FEMA Corps members were deployed to Baton Rouge to support ongoing flood recovery efforts over the past year. Both Coles and Regnier arrived in June and say they are encouraged by what they’ve witnessed.
“Every site visit I’ve done, the survivors have invited us into their homes and have been excited to show us their progress [fixing their flood-damaged homes],” says Coles.
Coles and Regnier both said survivors seem grateful for the assistance they’ve received from FEMA. They see it as an opportunity to not just repair their home, but also make it a little safer.
“I’ve seen a number of survivors who come from vulnerable communities, and they see this as an opportunity to get back on their feet; to start life over again,” says Regnier. “Maybe their home wasn’t the safest home before, but now they can make sure they have all of those safeguards in place and have a sound structural place to live.”
Regnier says survivors have mentioned on several occasions that if a disaster would occur again they would feel safer about living in their newly reconstructed home. Some of the mitigation steps taken by survivors include elevating their homes, installing hurricane-sturdy windows, and using mold-resistant paint.
Seeing progress in their home is helping survivors move past last year’s flood. According to Regnier, many say they’re eager to pay forward the generosity.
“Right after Hurricane Harvey hit, when we were doing site visits, many survivors were talking about how they wanted to get out of their mobile housing unit faster, because they saw the need in Texas.” Coles said.
Overall, about 4,600 manufactured housing units from FEMA were provided as temporary homes. Thirteen months later, about 2,800 households remain. Most rebuilding efforts are making steady progress and survivors are expected to be back home by the time the program ends in February 2018.
An average of about 31 families are moving out each week as they complete repairs or find other suitable, more permanent housing.