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Focusing on 'other disasters'

BY SUSAN KIM | OKLAHOMA CITY | March 19, 2002


"The waters have receded, the trash has been picked up, but people are still stitting in shell homes with no walls."

—Linda Walker, Adventist Community Services


With Sept. 11 recovery

still uppermost in the public's mind and on the news,

it's often hard for people to remember there are other

disasters across the nation according to disaster response leaders.

At the National Voluntary Organizations Active in

Disaster (NVOAD) conference, response leaders said it's

sometimes hard to get public support for those 'other

disasters.'

And there are quite a few of them.

While some responders were closely watching Tuesday's

unfolding disasters, others were sharing news about long-

term needs in other areas.

Some 25,000 people have applied for assistance from the

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the wake

of an ice storm that slammed much of western Oklahoma in

late January.

And in Houston, TX, recovery groups report there are at

least 3,000 families or individuals who need help beyond

what they've received from FEMA.

That disaster - though receiving little attention in the

public eye - is one of the most costly disasters the

U.S. has ever seen, ranking closely behind Hurricane

Andrew and the Northridge earthquake, said Linda Walker

of Adventist Community Services (ACS).

Houston's recovery will take at least three more years

and possibly longer, said Walker, adding that the area

needs support from the rest of the country. "We need

more volunteers, more resources, more funding, more

building materials," she said.

ACS manages a distribution warehouse in Houston.

Walker, who has worked in disaster response for 20 years

and has been with ACS for half that time, said she had

never seen the type of havoc Tropical Storm Allison

wreaked. "Houston is a disaster-prone area but they have

never had one of this magnitude. We weren't prepared. We

were prepared for tornadoes and hurricanes but not for

this."

Leaders of voluntary groups in Houston sometimes feel

people in need there have been forgotten. "The waters

have receded, the trash has been picked up, but people

are still sitting in shell homes with no walls," Walker

said. "The disaster is still there.

"People forget that disasters are a people problem as

well as an earth problem. The long-term mental anguish

is still there."

As the annual meeting continued in Oklahoma City, responders were also keeping an eye on this week's flooding in the southeast that was

still wreaking havoc Tuesday.

"We've got a unit on standby,"

said Joel Phillips of the Southern Baptist Convention.

His organization is known among the disaster

response community for quickly setting up mass feeding

units with hours after a disaster strikes. In a typical

year, the group responds to 75 disasters, sends more

than 24,000 volunteers, and prepares some 200,000 meals.

Phillips said he uses the organization's Web site to

communicate with his volunteers. He updates the site

three times a week -- often from the field. His

digital phone is equipped with a data port so he can

update the site even without a ground phone line.

Meanwhile southeastern Oklahoma was on a flood alert,

too, said Leon Alexander, crew chief for Baptist

Disaster Relief in Oklahoma.

Alexander -- who brought a self-sustained, state-of-the-

art mass feeding truck to exhibit on the convention

floor -- said he was on alert to respond to flooding in

his own state.

The truck - which is completely self-contained -- can

pull onto a disaster site with its volunteer crew and

serve up to 20,000 meals a day. "I might have to back up

and leave here shortly," he said Tuesday.

Many of the volunteers are retired and can leave on a

moment's notice. "It doesn't take me long to get ready

to go," said Alexander.

The truck is highly organized, with labeled compartments

housing any feeding-related item imaginable. Alexander

knows where everything is: bleach is in D-6, food wrap

in P-12, with the layout of the whole pantry housed in a

black binder notebook.

Baptist Disaster Relief commonly responds within 12

hours after a disaster strikes. The last disaster

Alexander responded to was when a tornado destroyed

about one-third of the town of Cordell, OK.

Amid many faith-based groups that concentrate on long-

term recovery, Baptist Disaster Relief prides itself on

its immediate response. "We actually don't stay long-

term. We try to respond within 12 hours after disaster

strikes," Alexander said.

Baptist Disaster Relief works closely

with The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, and other

response groups to try and ensure there is no duplication of

services, he added.

The volunteers said they feel called by God to do this

work. Their signature Bible verse is Matthew 25:35 and a

version of it is posted on the truck wall: "For I was

hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty

and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you invited

me in."


Related Topics:

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

Teams continue to rebuild in SC

Helping hands following 3 disasters


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