Hundreds still waiting for home repairs after Hurricane Ike

March 2, 2012 4:06:24 PM PST
A military veteran in Galveston is still waiting for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to rebuild his home that was destroyed in Hurricane Ike. He's not alone, but his story is unique and it will break your heart.

Russ Henderson is in his mid-70s. He's a dad, a retired merchant Marine and veteran of the 101st Airborne. He's not used to asking for help. And as so many Ike victims found out, when he did ask for help, it's was very slow in coming.

"I've lived here for a long time," Henderson said.

Henderson's lived on Galveston Island for decades, calling a FEMA trailer home since Hurricane Ike.

"We pulled out as soon as the water got up into the street," he said. "The storm surge came through and put about 2 and a half feet of water in the house, scrambled everything."

Henderson had no insurance, no savings. All that was eaten up helping his wife fight a losing battle with cancer. And when she died, it just sort of became one crisis too many.

"I've been getting through losing my wife," Henderson said. "Things kind of fell apart."

Henderson just got lost in a system that didn't work too well for anyone.

"I haven't been paying too much attention to this," he said.

So he's still in that trailer, one of just two still on the island, waiting for his home to be rebuilt by a city program funded with HUD money he qualified for years ago.

"Ugh, the wheels of progress grind rather slowly down there in the city," he said.

Henderson's story has its unique parts. Every victim's story is somewhat unique. But on the island, there are more than 1,100 homes that need to be rebuilt HUD, but the process is so slow and so broken that less than 140 of them have been completed almost a half years after the storm.

"It's taken quite a while for the city's disaster housing recovery program to hit its speed, its stride," city of Galveston spokeswoman Alicia Cahill said.

The state and the feds fought for months over eligibility, and that took time. Two months ago, the state forced Galveston to fire the outside company running the program due to missed goals, and Henderson was still sitting.

"It absolutely is frustrating. The city, the community would like nothing better to have people back in their homes," Cahill said.

There is some progress. That trailer is finally being moved out and Henderson is in a temporary apartment. A building permit is expected to be issued soon to rebuild his house.

The builder says Henderson will likely get the keys this spring, exactly three and a half years after it was lost.

"I need to have my house built," Henderson said.

Henderson's contractor said they expect to start work soon and when he moves in, we'll let you know.

It could be worse. Just this week, the last FEMA trailer left New Orleans. It's been six years since Hurricane Katrina.