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Indiana needs volunteers

Central Indiana is looking for volunteers who can help speed recovery for people still suffering the after-effects of July flooding.

BY SUSAN KIM | KOKOMO, Ind. | August 22, 2003


"About one-third of the damage was in Kokomo. I would say flood recovery could last two years there."

—Rev. Paul Wohlford


Central Indiana is looking for volunteers who can help speed recovery for people still suffering the after-effects of July flooding.

"I am trying to find groups that can do cleanup," said Darrin Hill Maxwell, who was hired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as the voluntary agency cleanup coordinator. "I don't need a hundred people but I need more people than I currently have.

"I ask that they call first," added Hill, who is trying to schedule volunteers who can help over the long term.

Faith-based disaster response groups and other voluntary agencies are finding many people whose basements still need to be cleaned, and mold has started to invade people's homes.

As summer ends, it's harder to recruit volunteer teams, even though flood-related needs remain.

More than 5,000 people have applied for FEMA assistance in the state of Indiana. FEMA has issued more than $10 million worth of assistance for housing and other needs, and another $10 million in low-interest loans has been approved. Some 43 counties were declared eligible for individual assistance grants from FEMA. People have until Sept. 9 to apply for FEMA assistance.

Assessments in Indiana have identified more than 2,200 homes affected with more than 715 destroyed or severely damaged, according to Church World Service (CWS).

At least 300 registrants have repair needs beyond the maximum $5,000 allowed by FEMA for repairs. Further, large percentages do not have insurance.

A CWS disaster response and recovery liaison has been working with local pastors and emergency management officials to help organize a long-term reponse.

The Rev. Paul Wohlford of the United Methodist Committee on Relief said he was still seeing many flooded basements, especially in the Kokomo, Ind., area, but he was also seeing people beginning to put new drywall on their damaged homes, he said.

The damage, Wohlford said, covered such a long stretch out to both the Illinois and Ohio borders that each community is addressing flood-related needs through its own long-term recovery committee, rather than funneling cases through one umbrella group.

But Kokomo, he said, was hardest hit. "About one-third of the damage was in Kokomo. I would say flood recovery could last two years there."

July's flood was worse than normal, he said, because it wasn't a flood associated so much with rising rivers and streams as it was with simply too much rain for the city's system. "So, homes in the southeastern part of town that never even had water in their backyards had five feet of water in their basements. They were told they didn't have to have flood insurance."

Wohlford said there was both a local and a national misconception that Kokomo is back to normal. "People think that, within a month or two everyone is back to normal because that has been the case with so many past floods. But this time, people are going to be in rental housing for up to a year."

Wohlford's wife, Shirley, said she has seen firsthand the health hazard of mold infestation, especially for elderly people. "One lady had to have her toe amputated because mold started to grow in a sore in her toe.

"There are many people who just can't get the moisture out of their homes," she added, "and the mold and mildew is just taking over."

Earlier this month Kokomo held a Flood Recovery Fair, where representatives from the Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (INVOAD) worked with FEMA, the Indiana State Emergency Management Agency and Lowe's of Kokomo to distribute information to people about cleanup and repair and about how to avoid future damage.

"The Flood Recovery Fair combined resources from both the volunteer and commercial sectors in such a way as to create a safe and convenient 'one-stop shopping' environment for those recovering from the floods," Jayne Stommel, INVOAD's president, said.

"It brought to life the phrase 'cooperation, communications, coordination, and collaboration' in disaster response, and it is definitely a model we intend to use again with future disasters," she added.

FEMA Mitigation Specialist Norm Neely talked specifics with those interested in implementing various low-cost flood mitigation projects in their home such as elevating appliances and installing sump pumps.

At Lowe's, building specialists were showing people how to replace drywall. Many people don't realize they need to pull off all sheetrock that has gotten wet or wicked up moisture, which may mean cutting the drywall two or three feet above the water line.

Lowe's also offered how-to demonstrations on extra measures that need to be taken to keep mold from spreading in a moisture-laden dwelling. Attendees learned it takes a lot of hard work and bleach.

"We're here to help educate," said Danny Keith, a manager at Lowe's. "And maybe we can help people be better prepared for the next flood or disaster."

According to CWS, another Indiana concern is the impact of the storms on agriculture. Preliminary estimates indicate that corn and soybean crop losses are approaching $100 million. The estimates are preliminary and do not include other costs to farmers, such as long-term effects of soil erosion, cleaning up debris left in the fields and repairing ditches.


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