CHICO, Butte County (KPIX 5) — The days are numbered at a makeshift camp in a Walmart parking lot in Chico, where dozens of evacuees from the Camp Fire have been told it’s time to leave.
Co-organizer Luigi Balsamo says the Red Cross has told them to shut everything down by 1 p.m. Sunday, when the donation bins will be removed as well as the portable bathrooms. “We need a clear exit strategy,” said Balsamo.
It’s a call that has evacuee Carol Whiteburn in a panic. “They’re taking everything on Sunday, the bathrooms, the lights, everything. I don’t know what we are going to do.”
It’s a crisis shared by more than 100 people here. Emergency officials say they’re aware of it, but federal assistance isn’t available yet.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster recovery center won’t even be open until tomorrow, and even then, temporary housing options aren’t in place.
“What do you tell people who are sleeping in a parking lot and still have to wait 5-7 days to even get an answer from FEMA?”
“I would tell them that our heart goes out to them,” said FEMA External Affairs Officer Brad Pierce. “We understand the situation. We are working around the clock to try and help them.”
FEMA says in the meantime, shelters are supposed to fill the gap.
However, four of the shelters housing Camp Fire evacuees currently have norovirus outbreaks, and are getting worse every day. “I’d rather breathe the smoke,” said Whiteburn.
So while this spot has stopped accepting donations and told everyone their deadline, what happens to these people after it, is a looming uncertainty.
“We have weather coming. It’s going to rain. What happens when it rains on all this stuff, or the flood zone where these people there tents are camped out over here?” said Balsamo. “We’re going to have a major crisis on our hands for the community here of Chico if these people have to go hit the streets.”
There are people who are in their 80s in the camp sleeping in their cars. There was woman with a three-year-old and a three-week-old sleeping in a tent in the cold.
City officials have said they are not going to be aggressive in the enforcement process, but the people here are in limbo with the hard deadline.
A FEMA disaster recover center is set to open Friday in an old Sears store in the Chico mall. FEMA says workers will be there through the night to get it up and running by 9:00 a.m. People will initially only be able to register there; help with housing is still days away.