'Little Cambodia' residents plead for help after Harvey

Miya Shay Image
Thursday, September 14, 2017
'Little Cambodia' residents living in tents after Harvey
In this part of rural Brazoria County, farmers and Cambodian refugees are asking when help will come.

BRAZORIA COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- In a rural corner of Brazoria County, the stench of storm debris envelopes a community desperately needing help. Around 200 families, mostly Cambodian refugees, face uncertain futures after Harvey's wrath.

"I do worry a lot, because I don't know how to start over again," said Peter Sar, a farmer who built his modest greenhouse by hand. "The hurricane destroyed it."

The greenhouses and modest homes that line the unpaved roads in the community known as Little Cambodia are mostly in shambles. Some families, like Po Yong, are sleeping in tents outside the moldy homes.

"We have no place to go, so we live in a tent," said Yong, "It's hard to say because we lose the house, we lose the car, we need help."

Getting help has not come without controversy. The temple at the center of the community is operational. It has become a neighborhood relief center as well as a gathering place for volunteers.

FEMA told it is unwelcome in Little Cambodia

Nearly all the houses in this part of rural Brazoria County were destroyed during Harvey.

Several citizen organizations have been among the most visible volunteers. The groups include the American Freedom Keepers, The Confederate Riders of America, as well as Alvin-based SSG Group.

"We're here to help this culture and community," said Rick Cameron, the National President of the Confederate Riders of America. "Stay together to help them rebuild so they can continue their lives."

For now, it's unclear though, if the rebuilding will include FEMA or any additional government help. The federal relief agency confirmed to Eyewitness News that workers paid a visit to Little Cambodia on September 10th, but left after meeting with the various citizen groups.

This evening, FEMA released this statement:

FEMA is concerned for the safety and welfare of survivors as well as our employees. While getting FEMA assistance to survivors is paramount, we are siding with caution to keep survivors and FEMA employees safe. We will follow the state's guidance as to how we will engage this community.

The agency says it is waiting for Texas Emergency Management officials to determine the next steps, or if they will continue to try to visit the community.

The Confederate Riders of America say the community isn't ready for federal help yet.

"We have a meeting with FEMA scheduled," said Cowboy, the Sergeant at Arms with the National Confederate Riders Association. "We spoke with FEMA yesterday, because they came here blind and we have been here since the beginning of the disaster. So, we wanted to be able to brief FEMA."

For survivors still living in tents, there is confusion. Yong says she wants help, no matter where it comes from.

"Between FEMA and those people, is it the same help us, or is it different?" Yong asked.

Eyewitness News has also spoken with several residents who have applied for FEMA, but say they did it online instead of meeting with anyone in person.

The volunteer groups say they are here to make sure the families rebuild fast, and they promise to stay until the job is done.

"We will see this till the very end, until the people have their community, their temple of worship," said Cowboy.

Several other churches as well as volunteers from the Red Cross are in Little Cambodia. They have been focused on getting medical treatment to the elderly, as well as trying to help the families rebuild their farming infrastructure.

Back at his small greenhouse, Peter Sar says he doesn't know quite how to rebuild. He's still sleeping in a shelter at a nearby Baptist church every day, and then returning to try to repair his greenhouse, and save his crop

"Just wait and see," he says.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Volunteers said they are in need of donations of sheetrock, cleaning supplies and building materials to help get the people of Little Cambodia back on their feet.

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