It was utter chaos in the lobby of Hoquiam’s Emerson Manor Tuesday morning as more than 60 residents returned, ready to get their lives back to normal.
Residents, family members, crews of workers and community volunteers carried in dozens of boxes by hand, on dollies and in shopping carts. Leashed dogs barked and wagged their tails, and residents welcomed each other with cheers and hugs.
“I just walked and shouted, ‘I’m back!’” said Janet Travis, an Emerson Manor resident. “We’re all just so happy to be back.”
Travis and the other Emerson Manor residents — most of whom are elderly, disabled or low-income — had been living in motels or with friends and family for three weeks after a small apartment fire on Feb. 20 led to water damage and bacterial growth throughout the building.
Charles Wallace, deputy director of Grays Harbor County Emergency Management, said the cleanup and repairs were completed much faster than expected. Most of the walls have been painted, and new carpets will be installed in the hallways next week.
Only five apartments remain uninhabitable: the one where the fire occurred and the surrounding apartments that were flooded due to complications with the sprinkler system. But nearly all of those residents have been given apartments in the building that were empty prior to the fire, Wallace said. One resident found another home.
‘It’s great to have everyone back in here,” Wallace said. “This building really is a community. It’s like a neighborhood where everyone knows each other.”
Carl Grisar lived in one of the heavily-damaged apartments, but was able to move into a new apartment on the second floor. He entered his new place for the first time Tuesday morning and started planning the layout as his dog, Snoopy, sniffed around the boxes.
“It looks like I’ll have a lot of unpacking to do,” Grisar said. “I didn’t even remember that I had some of this stuff.”
Most of the apartments were unharmed by the water, but a few residents lost mattresses, dressers and other furniture. Anchor Bank is still collecting donations to help replace the items, and donations can be made at any branch. McHugh’s Furniture, located in downtown Hoquiam, has set aside furniture to sell to residents at a discount, Wallace said.
Tropical Tanning Salon &Boutique will host a Friends of Emerson Manor lunch and silent auction March 22 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Masonic Ballroom, located at 510 8th St. in Hoquiam. A donation of $10 is suggested for lunch, and donations of male and female undergarments, socks, personal hygiene items and snacks will also be accepted. For more information, contact Lin Messerer or Debbie Pickar at 360-637-9182.
Since the fire and flooding, several organizations, agencies and companies have stepped up to provide meals, money and moral support.
“In my 63 years of living, I’d never seen the community come together so quickly,” said Gayle McMillan, an Emerson Manor resident.
But nothing could replace the Emerson Manor support system, McMillan said. Her two sisters also live in the building, along with countless friends. She was also separated from her cat, Meme, for a few days, but was eventually allowed to keep her pet in her room at the GuestHouse Inn.
“I kind of just felt like I was floating in no man’s land,” McMillan said. “But once I got my cat, I settled down.”
Dolores Sisco considers herself “one of the lucky ones.” She was able to stay with her son, Wayne Sisco, and didn’t lose any of her personal belongings.
“Thank goodness I had someone to take care of me,” Dolores Sisco said.
The mother and son will have some cleaning to do — mostly moldy food in the fridge.
“She didn’t have a chance to do anything on the way out,” Wayne Sisco said. “So we’ve got some science projects in the fridge.”
After three stressful weeks, the Emerson Manor residents are just happy to be sleeping in their own beds again, glad that their lives are returning to normal.
“This certainly wasn’t any fun, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” McMillan said. “It wasn’t a Hurricane Katrina. This was just a taste of how we deal with bad situations, and it helps us be more prepared for next time.”