It’s been a week of living without power, having to boil water and, for some, worrying about looters, sleeping at an emergency shelter and salvaging what’s left from shattered homes at Riverside Village mobile home park in Chattaroy.
But a ray of hope is in sight for at least some of the residents.
Homes in the southern section of the mobile home park, largely spared from the severe storm on July 23, were set to get power turned on starting Wednesday evening.
The 200 homes in the park along U.S. Highway 2 have been isolated from the main power grid so it won’t be as easy as flipping a switch, said Inland Power and Light operations assistant Joanne Hill. Each home in the undamaged southern portion of the park will have its power restored individually.
“I’m going to have three guys up there making sure it’s done right,” Hill said.
But residents in the northern half of the park, where dozens of trees came down on homes, cars and electrical systems, will face a much longer wait.
“The north end is a whole different ballgame,” Hill said. “The north side of the park still has a lot of trees down on transformers and condemned homes.”
It is the park’s responsibility to replace the individual electrical boxes and meters that have been damaged, Hill said. Once those are repaired, power can be restored to undamaged homes.
Park manager Sandy McCoin said it may be eight weeks before everyone has power again. On Wednesday, heavy equipment was still plucking fallen trees off homes. Trees were cut into sections for easier removal.
Numerous trees that were intact but leaning dangerously after the storm have been felled.
“We took out almost 100 dangerous trees on top of the ones that fell,” McCoin said.
Water has been restored, but residents have been advised to boil their water. Resident Scott Ostberg said his home wasn’t damaged, but he’s been riding his bike to Deer Park to wash laundry.
“It’s been hard to get in and out,” he said as he watched the heavy equipment work. “It’s kind of hard to live here.”
A makeshift kitchen has been set up under a tarp next to the park office. There are several barbecue grills, ice chests and boxes of donated food and water. Several bags of dog food also arrived Wednesday.
“I do a lot of the cooking,” said resident Lonnie Jones, who lives next door to the park office. Several churches also have been sending people to cook for residents, Jones said.
Jones’ mobile home received only a glancing blow from a tree during the storm. He was outside in his garden when it hit suddenly.
“I wanted to run, but it was on me too quick,” he said. “I just hugged the tree and held on.”
He was pelted by dirt and debris as he clutched the tree. “I prayed heavily,” he said. “That tree saved my life.”
Jones said he stayed at the Red Cross shelter at Riverside High School for the first couple of nights but is back in his home thanks to a generator.
The shelter was busy the first few nights but no one has been sleeping there recently, said Megan Snow of the Red Cross.
“It’s kind of transitioned to a client service center,” she said. “If somebody needs a place to stay, it’s easily reopened.”
Residents can come to the shelter between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. for meals and showers or to meet with a caseworker to get assistance. The Red Cross can help replace food and lost items as well as provide first month’s rent to anyone who is forced to move, Snow said.
McCoin said only a few residents had insurance.
“I know of only four that did,” she said. One family used to have insurance, but didn’t pay the premium last month after the husband lost his job.
“Theirs was one of the hardest hit,” she said. “It was completely twisted in half. That one tore my heart out.”
Even as residents struggle to clean up, another problem has arisen – looters. McCoin and several residents say looters have targeted damaged homes.
Ostberg said he’s been watching over his neighbors.
“I get up at 1:30, 2 in the morning and walk around,” he said. “Nothing’s been stolen from me or anyone I know.”
Some residents whose homes have been damaged have been camping in their yards to combat looting.
“There’s some of us that walk and patrol,” Jones said. “They’re going to get caught. It’s just a matter of time.”
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