"It's always a very slow and frustrating process," he said.
Some state lawmakers said Pennsylvania needs to create a disaster relief fund to provide immediate support to residents before or in the absence of federal assistance, a step Rep. Kathleen Tomlinson, R-Bucks, has proposed.
"The whole emergency natural disaster process needs to be reworked," said Briggs. "Until local communities, counties, and the state create funds, or budget funds are allowed to be used for relief efforts, we have to rely on local churches and nonprofits."
Now that federal aid is coming, residents may get some measure of relief. But it will still be a long recovery process, experts said, and at least a short wait after they submit their applications.
Uncertainty and waiting
In the meantime, uncertainty about the future was sinking in for many. There were few hotel vacancies near towns like Bridgeport and Coatesville. Chester County was asking landlords about any available rental properties.
"Everybody's biggest fear is the long run and what's next," said Anthony Hunt, a Bridgeport resident who was cleaning out his home last week. "It's literally half a borough looking to start over."
On Thursday, Elizabeth Thomas and her cousin Jennifer Smith walked into the Montgomery County resource center in Norristown, Smith clutching an orange folder of her own research.
Thomas' family has lived in her Conshohocken home since 1963, the year she was born. Now, she can't go back, and she has to figure out how to get it remediated and inspected — and how to pay for repairs and new appliances, including a heater and water heater. She's been sleeping on Smith's couch since Tuesday, and her daughter is staying in Philadelphia.
"It's been very hard for everybody. A lot of people don't have nowhere to go," said Thomas, 57. "Stressed and worried and trying to figure out stuff on our own. That's what everybody's doing."
Smith reassured her cousin that they would get it figured out and she could stay as long as she needed.
Majors, his fiancée, and their five children — ages 10 months to 13 years — had paid for a hotel room until Saturday. They lost both their cars in the flood, had to buy clothes at Target, and have been living off takeout and microwave meals.
On Friday, their landlord had finished repairs on their Bridgeport home and they hoped they could return. But borough officials told them it needed more work to be inhabitable, Majors said, so they reluctantly extended their hotel stay.
They're worried about how families on the block are going to survive if they can't go home. They only moved from Pottstown a year ago, said Majors, a construction worker and truck driver.
And the hardest part, they said, is protecting their children from the trauma. As they left the county resource center Thursday with few answers, Majors reached over and wiped his fiancée's teary eyes above her mask.
"What are we supposed to do?" he said. "It's been hard. It's been rough."
Staff writer Oona Goodin-Smith contributed to this article.(c)2021 The Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.