Hurricane Laura Survivors Could Come Home for the Holidays

Julie H. Case

The Category 4 Hurricane destroyed their houses, but with a little help from some veteran volunteers, Texas and Louisiana residents will get the chance to celebrate the season under their own roofs.

It was bad enough that a neighbor’s cedar tree punched a hole in Norman Self’s roof during Hurricane Laura. Not being eligible for FEMA assistance was just salt in the wound.

Norman and Josefa Self have lived in their family home in Orange, TX, since 1999. Both of their children were raised there and both, along with a 10-month-old grandson, live in the home with their parents today. The family had evacuated to San Antonio in August to ride out Hurricane Laura, which made landfall as a Category 4 in Louisiana’s Cameron Parish and then swept northward wreaking havoc—especially in Lake Charles, LA, and Orange, TX—as it went.

At first, it seemed the family home had been spared. A nephew drove by and snapped photos of the potential damage. From afar, it didn’t look so bad; it looked like the tree was just leaning against the roof. It wasn’t until the family returned home and found limbs in their living room, in their bedroom, and in a back room of the house that they began to understand the full extent of the damage. The roof had been breached in multiple locations—and hurricane season was just beginning.

For the Selfs, the situation looked especially bleak. Not only was Norman, a former submarine operator, unable to work because of a disability, the family wouldn’t be eligible for federal FEMA assistance. While nearby Lake Charles was declared a disaster area after Category 4 Hurricane Laura, Orange, TX, was not. Without a federal disaster declaration, residents aren’t eligible for FEMA assistance, regardless of how much damage they personally have experienced.

Family and friends helped a lot. They managed to remove the tree from the roof and clear the limbs from inside the home. Meanwhile, Norman and his son mounted the roof and put down some plywood and covered it with a tarp. They knew, however, that it wasn’t a long-term solution. And they didn’t know what they’d do about it.

“Getting the house fixed, that for us wasn’t even an option on the table. You know, keeping food on the table was the only option that was on the table for us,” said Self.

Then, Team Rubicon came calling. The organization had first learned about the Self family while doing disaster response work in the area after Hurricane Laura in September. It quickly became obvious to Team Rubicon volunteers that while the family needed roofing help, they also needed more. In addition to the roof breach, multiple rooms within the home had water damage—a common occurrence when a roof is breached in a hurricane, which tends to bring with it significant rainfall. So, when Team Rubicon made the decision to expand its rebuild operations to Lake Charles and Orange, the Self family was near the top of the list. On December 1, Team Rubicon launched its new rebuild operations in the Gulf Coast region devastated by Hurricane Laura, and set to work repairing and rebuilding a handful of homes in Orange and Lake Charles—all at no cost to the homeowners.

The Selfs, outside their Orange, TX, home.

“When Team Rubicon came along and said, that they want to come by and take a look, I was just blown away. Actually, when they said that they were going to do the repairs or get the repairs done speechless,” said Self.

Helping the Self family is just the beginning. Team Rubicon already has 26 homes to repair in the pipeline.

“Our goal with this program is to get people who have no other option back into their homes as quickly as possible,” explained David Burke, senior vice president of operations for Team Rubicon. “They survived Hurricanes Laura and Delta, but their homes didn’t. They aren’t eligible for federal assistance, typically don’t have insurance, and nearly always lack the capital needed to make their homes livable again. Our goal is to cover that gap, and in doing so we hope we’ll ease the strain on other local resources and prevent Gulf Coast families from falling through the cracks.”

Across Orange and over in Lake Charles, the work has already begun. Team Rubicon contractors and volunteers have been plugging away at the roof at the Self’s home, have begun to address interior repairs, and expect everything to be complete in time for the holidays. All of which is leaving Norman Self a bit speechless.

“I don’t know what to say, you know?” said Self. “So far, it has been one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.”

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