Local agencies are still working tirelessly to secure food, housing and other basic necessities for more than 60 Emerson Manor residents who were forced to leave their homes after a Feb. 20 fire led to widespread water damage throughout the building.
The fire itself did very little damage, but residents of the low-income apartment building evacuated Feb. 24 after tests showed high levels of bacteria in the water-soaked carpets and furniture.
Since then, crews have ripped out much of Emerson Manor’s carpets and some of the dry wall, sanitized the rooms and are slowly drying out the building with giant dehumidifiers, said Lisa Boone, deputy director of the Housing Authority of Grays Harbor.
The restoration is being handled by Belfor, a global company specializing in disaster recovery and property restoration, Boone said.
There’s still no word on when residents will be allowed to move back into their apartments, but tenants of the less-damaged apartments will likely return in coming weeks, said Charles Wallace, deputy director of Grays Harbor Emergency Management. However, there are six apartments that are in much worse shape — and they could be uninhabitable for months.
“We think it will be sooner than later,” Wallace said. “We can’t tell you exactly when because we still have tests to run.”
Boone said the building’s famous lobby will remain intact — it just needs to be dried out.
Meanwhile, several displaced residents are staying in local motels: the Hoquiam Econo Lodge, the Aberdeen Travelodge and the Aberdeen Guesthouse Inn. As of Thursday night, 32 residents were staying in motels. The remaining displaced residents are staying with friends or family.
“Some people are still trickling in,” Boone said. “Even yesterday I had a gentleman come by who had left before he heard exactly what was happening.”
The rooms will be paid for by the Coastal Community Action Program (CCAP), which received emergency shelter funds from Grays Harbor County. The funding will last through the end of March.
Jerry Raines, director of the Housing Authority, said the displaced residents who found other places to stay shouldn’t feel stuck if their plans fall through, or the situation isn’t working out. They can call the Housing Authority at 360-532-0570 to ask for help.
Raines said the Housing Authority would like to hear from all of the Emerson Manor residents so that officials can keep them updated on the status of renovations and possible move-in dates.
Because several Emerson Manor residents have limited mobility and many of the motel rooms only have microwaves and small refrigerators, feeding everyone has been a challenge. The agencies assisting the residents are addressing the problem week to week.
Many agencies have volunteered to provide lunch to the displaced residents, and CCAP will be providing dinner.
“We’re comfortable that everyone’s being fed and that their needs are being met,” said Dan Homchick of Grays Harbor County Public Health &Social Services.
With the most basic needs taken care of, officials are now moving on to other concerns — like mail delivery. For the past few days, Emerson Manor residents haven’t been able to pick up their mail. Boone said this has been especially stressful because many people are expecting benefit checks in the mail.
Postal carriers will start delivering to Emerson Manor again, and residents can pick up their mail between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. beginning today.
Other residents are expecting packages containing medication. All packages are being taken to the Housing Authority office, located at 602 E First St. in Aberdeen.
Officials are also starting to discuss furniture that may have been damaged. Boone said none of the residents’ personal items will be simply thrown away. Crews are assessing damage room by room, and will call residents to discuss the state of their belongings.
Only one resident had renter’s insurance, Boone said, so many people may need help purchasing new furniture.
The Housing Authority set up an account at Anchor Bank to accept donations for the displaced residents and the replacement of belongings and furniture destroyed by water. Donations may be made at any Anchor Bank branch.
Wallace said he has been speaking with many local elected officials, including Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney, to make sure repairs are completed efficiently and according to city and county codes.
“We’re trying to do it step-by-step so everybody’s happy, so everything is done right,” Wallace said.