McALLEN — Volunteers with various nonprofits are helping some of the hardest hit residents recover from Hurricane Hanna as Hidalgo County waits for federal aid to arrive — and it might just be around the corner.
Hidalgo County has surpassed the threshold needed to qualify for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricardo “Rick” Saldaña told commissioners court Tuesday.
That puts homeowners and businesses damaged during the hurricane one step closer to receiving financial assistance from FEMA. The agency’s Region 6 office and the Texas Division of Emergency Management are currently reviewing the damage assessment, which indicated Hidalgo County sustained approximately $4.7 million in damages, Saldaña said.
The agency requires at least 800 uninsured homes and businesses be destroyed or have major damage in order to trigger help. Last week, state and local officials said the county was far from that number, with only about 400 reported at the time.
Still, assessments continued throughout the week with the help of Texas military forces, local municipalities, county officials and self-reporting methods, and that number doubled.
“We have a total of 2,826 homes that have been self reported and/or submitted by municipalities and the county; 196 of those are destroyed homes and 606 (have) major damages, which is a total 802,” Saldanña said, noting the threshold was surpassed by two.
But public aid, which is given by FEMA to local government entities and certain nonprofits, is still a long ways away, he added.
“At the state level, we’re currently at $13.7 million — that’s between the 32 counties that were part of the state declaration,” Saldaña said about the combined damage. “We’re about $24 million short (of the threshold), but this (assessment) continues within all the counties.”
Hidalgo County officials, however, are still asking municipalities to continue updating their disaster summary outlines to increase the figure and trigger public aid.
“We are encouraging our municipal partners to continue submitting numbers of any businesses or residences that were severely impacted due to Hurricane Hanna, whether it be wind and/or flood damages,” he said.
Saldaña also said Hidalgo County is currently working with the nongovernmental organizations helping throughout the county.
“Currently, Southern Baptist…has already started muck and gutting. They’ve done about approximately 80 homes in our county,” he said. “Team Rubicon will be coming in within the next week or so. American Red Cross is currently doing assessments and also providing assistance to some of the residents of Hidalgo County in some shape, form or manner.”
His office is also in dialogue with other nonprofit organizations in hopes of luring more of them to the area to help residents in need.
“We continue working with the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley to do food distributions to those impacted areas,” Saldaña added.
All dewatering operations have ceased and the pumps that were borrowed from the state should already be on their way to the Pharr office of the Texas Department of Transportation.
Brush pickup is also being managed by outside companies in three of the four county precincts, Saldaña said, but didn’t indicate which one is doing their own pickup.
“There is a lot of debris out on the road within our county and a lot of the municipalities,” Saldaña said.
Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes, whose precinct has been hit repeatedly by rain events in recent years, said it was imperative to get that resolved.
“Considering that we’re still in hurricane season, we need to try to get that debris out of the ditches and bar ditching along the side because that’s what allows water to flow,” he said. “And we don’t want that flooding to occur.”
Saldaña said the county and municipalities were already deploying crews to clean up.
“I appreciate all your help chief,” Fuentes told Saldaña. “And I know that this has been trying not only for COVID, but with the response to the hurricane as well.”