CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- When the May rainstorms and landslides struck West Virginia, many residents lost their homes or found they were uninhabitable. In Mingo and Logan counties, which suffered the heaviest damage, a number of families were forced out of their homes and had to crowd in with friends or relatives. Rental units were difficult to find.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services (WVOES) knew it would be necessary to quickly develop temporary mobile home sites. Both travel trailers and mobile homes would be used, but finding suitable terrain in a mountainous state with many waterways could be a problem. Any site would have to be relatively flat, outside of the 100-year flood plain and have access to power, telephone and public water services.
Recommendation for possible sites came from Mingo and Logan county officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Close to 90 sites were examined. Some had to be rejected outright but for those that were considered, selection was only the beginning.
Developing temporary home sites is urgent in view of the survivors' critical housing needs. Once a site is decided on, it can be completed in 30 days, barring weather delays. The process is detailed, requiring step-by-step coordination, and the stringent deadline demands long days in order to complete on schedule. Here are the steps that were tasked to the USACE and subcontractors to get the job done; photographs attached here help illustrate the process:
- Scour county locations;
- Select potential sites;
- Determine geological structure of sites from Geographic Information System maps;
- Design presentations for FEMA/state consideration including lot layouts of temporary homes, layout of water systems, water treatment plants, drainage and electrical systems, phone and cable lines, fire hydrant and manhole placements and availability of community services;
- Hire contractors to complete the infrastructure, lay out the lots, bring in the temporary homes, and connect them to utilities.
Leo Arbaugh, who is Temporary Housing expert with USACE spoke about some of the more personal aspects of creating a site. "We are very careful to build sites that are safe as well as pleasant to live in," he said. "And we consider the children, too, -not only their safety but whether or not they will have space to play even though this is a temporary home. We are very happy with the results at the sites developed so far."
When the sites are agreed upon by FEMA and the WVOES, permits are obtained from the Department of Environmental Protection and approval letters from the fire department and the department of health. A public comment period is also advertised. At the same time, families are being approved for residency.
Three sites were developed in Mingo County after the Memorial Day storms. They are the R.A. West Memorial Mobile Home Park and the Willis Court Mobile Home Park in Varney, and the Parks Manor Mobile Home Park in Taylorville. Another Mingo site is planned.
Federal Coordinating Officer, Lou Botta, said "FEMA will offer homes to eligible families as soon as we can find and complete suitable new sites. We sympathize with the many individuals who are suffering because of the floods and we are prepared to do all we can to help." To date, 324 families are in temporary housing units.
Applicants who filed before the August 6 deadline and find they have housing needs should notify FEMA by calling the Helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Persons who are hearing- or speech-impaired may call a TTY number, 1-800-462-7585.