Aside from the National Disaster Team trailer parked in the middle of the parking lot, and a few blue tarps and workers in red shirts and hats climbing on the rooftops, it was hard to tell the devastation Wellington Grove Apartments endured.
With the hurricane past, Jacksonville Deputy City Manager Ron Massey and his team of building code specialists have been driving around various neighborhoods and assessing the damage done to properties around the city.
These assessments are meant to help residents figure out next steps for what to do with their homes: repair and move on, or replace and move out.
In their preliminary estimates of damage, Massey said inspectors might not see all there is. They might see a few missing shingles and mark the damage minor, for example, when in reality there is water in the house that collapsed the ceiling.
Other times, there are context clues. On a recent drive through the affected areas of town, Massey pointed out tarps over buildings that had damage to their roofs and trees that were chain-sawed into logs after having fallen on or near property.
“Our guys would use that as an indication that that house got water damage,” Massey said as he pointed out couches and armchairs that were moved to the curb for removal. “Why would you have a bunch of furniture out in the yard other than the fact that it got wet?”
They don’t want it to mold in the house, Massey explained. And it’s factors such as this that the assessment teams take into account when deciding whether a building is safe or not.
“When the building is identified as unsafe to occupy, then we go back (and) we try to schedule a more specific inspection of the house,” Massey said.
The more detailed inspections of the houses and then the inspections of the work that’s been done is what’s critical now, Massey said.
“And also to report to FEMA the damage assessment,” Strickland added.
48 hours to leave
Wellington Grove Apartments and the Shoreline Drive townhouses were two areas hit particularly bad.
Some of the Wellington apartments were classified as majorly damaged because of extensive water damage and leaks from the roofs in buildings 1, 4 and 5, said Sherrill Strickland, an independent contractor working with the city to assess properties. Each of the buildings has 16 units.
“Most apartments in town did real well,” Strickland said. “But this particular set of apartments saw a lot of damage.”
According to Mel Casaretto, whose mother lives at one of the damaged buildings at Wellington, all of the families in those buildings were given 48 hours to remove their belongings and leave.
A letter, signed by East Carolina Community Development Vice President Kelly Barringer and CEO Keith Walker, and explained the situation to the residents. It’s dated Sept. 21.
“As you can easily see, there has been significant damage done to Wellington Grove Apartments … which will require extensive restoration/re-construction,” Barringer wrote. “At the current time, we have no choice but to notify you that you must vacate your unit within 48 hours of receiving this notice.”
Barringer went on to ask residents to remove all salvageable personal property from their homes and to leave anything they do not wish to take, which will be disposed of. Barringer asked residents to sign the paper and return it to the office by Monday.
Security deposits are being returned in full, Barringer wrote, as well as the prorated rent for Sept. 14-30. Walker and Wellington Apartments staff were unable to be reached for comment.
“It’s not like this is still your apartment and you can come back,” Casaretto said. “This is not your apartment anymore. Monday you look for another place to live.”
Finding a new home
The challenge is compounded, she explained, by the fact that all the storage units are taken up, the hotels are all booked, and the apartments require a deposit, first month’s rent, utilities, water, etc. — things that are difficult to pay for when the resident’s social security check is already spent.
“For my mom (and others at Wellington) they live on social security,” Casaretto said. “So it’s already gone. And you can only look for a certain dollar amount also.”
Sylvia Sanchez, one of the neighbors, was living at the Wellington apartments for as long as they have been around. She speaks primarily Spanish. She had to have the nuances of the situation explained to her by a Spanish-speaking neighbor.
“If you don’t sign the letter, they’re going to come to the house, Monday (or) Tuesday, take all of your belongings and dispose of it,” Casaretto was saying to her on Friday as Sanchez listened through tears.
Another neighbor offered Sanchez to stay with her and her son. Sanchez was prone to strokes, that neighbor explained.
“She has a whole house full of stuff,” Casaretto said.
Shutting off the power
Shoreline Drive, down the street from the New River Yacht Club, saw similar amounts of damage. Duke Energy, according to Shoreline Drive resident Vanessa Anderson, told callers that they had a work order from the city to shut power off.
“I think they're prepared to condemn all the homes on Shoreline Drive,” Anderson said. “They shut off everybody's power before they decided to do this, and didn't tell anybody.”
Jacksonville Assistant City Manager Glenn Hargett said one of the issues with the townhomes is their connected walls. If one tenant doesn’t fix their side, the tenants on the connecting walls are affected, too.
The area received 3-to-5 feet of flooding, if not more, Hargett said. The power was turned off to the area because repairs needed to be made and, in some cases, flooding reached the electrical boxes. These repairs need to be made prior to the homes being labeled habitable again and power turned back on, Hargett explained.
But not everyone is in the same boat.
“Each one is a separate case,” Hargett said.
The city told residents once repairs are made to call city hall for a free inspection and, once homes are approved, the power for their unit would be turned back on, Hargett said.
A frustrating situation
According to Anderson, the residents were not surprised when it was determined that the townhouses on that street were uninhabitable. They were living in houses with mold from floods and terrible smells from sewage overflow. The structures were in bad shape, and flooded even during light storms.
But, Anderson said, residents of Shoreline Drive townhouses are mad because they were not given a warning of power being cut off, they had no light to take all of their belongings out by and there was nowhere for them to go. They were also frustrated by the fact that across the street the lights were on and the damage was less severe.
“Why is the poor side of Shoreline Drive being treated like this?” Anderson asked. “We pay our taxes like everybody else does.”
According to Massey, Wellington is a relatively new apartment complex.
“One of the sad things about it is that those are the people that have the least resources,” Massey said. “So when people like that get impacted with unexpected expenses those are people that may not have the same level (of support to fall back on).”