Five feet high and #Rising: Trying to find refuge for a family of six

Michele O'Malley and her family have been hopping from dwelling to dwelling after being displaced by Irma. They don't always know where they'll end up next.

Michele O'Malley is one of seven people profiled in the Five Feet High and #Rising documentary which set out to tell the stories of those impacted by Hurricane Irma's historic and catastrophic flooding.

Michele O’Malley couldn’t have managed without the gray Sterilite bins. In the weeks after the storm, the family of six moved five times – each time packing everything they still owned, or had been forced to buy -- into the bins, and into car. “It takes about two trips,” she says about the now-familiar drill.

They farmed out laundry to neighbors and elementary school teachers; they learned every “kids eat free” night within driving distance, and they couch surfed with friends.

It took three weeks for Michele to find an available FEMA-subsidized hotel room. “All the rooms were either booked or not participating anymore,” she says. “So it was hard – hard, and lots of hours to find a place to stay.”

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Even then, the family had to pay extra to get a “suite” – a room with a pullout couch and large enough for all four kids. And there was no guarantee they’d be able to stay more than a week.

“Our FEMA lodging approval is only through Saturday,” Michelle said the Tuesday after moving in. “So we have to check out by Sunday, and we don’t know where were going next.” Calls to FEMA led only to long holds and eventual automatic disconnects. “Sorry, there’s no one available to take your call,” the recording says. “Your call will now be disconnected.’”

“I sometimes get a little down because I don’t know were going to live,” O’Malley says admittedly. “That’s a little scary for me for the kids. Right now, I just try to keep positive for them. And I’m very lucky nobody was hurt nobody was injured and we’re all still here. And that’s the most important thing.”

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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