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Needs linger in MD

Maryland's coalition of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) announced that two interfaith long-term recovery groups have been created in the state to help meet needs in the wake of Hurricane Isabel.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 15, 2003

Maryland's coalition of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) announced that two interfaith long-term recovery groups have been created in the state to help meet needs in the wake of Hurricane Isabel.

One interfaith committee will handle needs in the Baltimore and central Maryland areas, while the second will concentrate on Maryland's eastern shore communities.

The VOAD comprises faith-based and secular disaster response groups.

Church World Service has been supporting creation of the new interfaith groups, offering technical assistance and guidance to local church officials.

Faith-based groups, including Lutheran Disaster Response and the United Methodist Committee on Relief, were working together to appoint case managers who will continue to assess damages and help families with both physical and spiritual care needs.

Other national faith-based disaster response groups Presbyterian Disaster Assistance among many others were offering financial support.

The deadline for applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for Marylanders is Nov. 18.

VOAD leaders were working to encourage residents with damage to apply for FEMA assistance or for loans with the Small Business Administration (SBA).

The number of people returning SBA applications has been very low in Maryland, indicating a lack of understanding about funds for which they may be eligible. Only about 10 percent of requested applications have been filled out and returned.

VOAD leaders were concerned that flood survivors who are feeling overwhelmed may fail to fill out required paperwork before the deadline.

FEMA officials were encouraging residents to visit flood recovery centers that have been opened in their area.

Residents call also call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) to apply for assistance. Over the phone, they should be prepared to give their social security number, describe their losses, provide financial information, and give directions to the damaged property.

Storm survivors may also make an optional visit to a Disaster Recovery Center to receive more information after they have registered by phone. Local, state, federal, and voluntary agency representative are on hand at recovery centers and may be able to assist.

After a resident calls the toll-free FEMA phone line, an inspector will set up an appointment with the resident to visit the damaged property within a few days. There is no fee for the inspection. Inspectors are contractors, not FEMA employees, but they do carry FEMA identification.

Residents must be present for the scheduled appointment. Inspectors will look at the damage, verify ownership and occupancy, and make a report. Inspectors don't determine eligibility. If eligible, residents will receive a housing assistance check within 7-10 days.

The first line of assistance is FEMA's housing assistance program. Regardless of income, if residents qualify, they get a grant. The second line of assistance is the SBA low-interest disaster loan. This is available for renters, home owners and businesses under a disaster declaration. Homeowners can get up to $200,000 for uninsured or under-insured real estate loss. Renters as well as homeowners can get up to $40,000 for underinsured or uninsured personal property loss.

The third line of assistance is called the other needs assistance. Those found ineligible for an SBA loan are automatically referred to this grant program.

Residents who see evidence of people filing false claims should call the FEMA fraud hotline at 800-323-8603.

VOAD leaders were trying to get the word out to media outlets that at least some disaster recovery centers were still open and that people can visit and get help. They were concerned that elderly residents or other vulnerable people did not have transportation to get to recovery centers.

In Maryland, tainted wells remained a concern. Wells were hit flooding, saltwater corrosion and electrical mal-functions.

An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 wells in Anne Arundel County alone were inundated with floodwater in the wake of the Sept. 18 hurricane. State and local officials there received preliminary results back from testing 494 wells, and 345 tested positive for bacteria.

Waterfront communities such as Deale and Shady Side were hard hit, and public officials there were offering free well testing. Anne Arundel County has an estimated 45,000 residential wells.

In Baltimore County, more than 100 property owners are dealing with wells that were possibly tainted by floodwater, according to Baltimore County's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.

Adventist Community Services was managing a multi-agency warehouse and was planning to distribute water for those who need it.

Health officials were urging residents to test their wells for dangerous bacteria and to disinfect wells with bleach to make sure that water is safe.

To disinfect a well, residents can pour a gallon of bleach into the well, flush it through the plumbing system by turning on all the taps in the house, then letting it sit for 24 hours.

But most county officials were urging residents to have their wells professionally tested and cleaned.

The cost to test well water usually runs $40 to $60, but some counties including Harford, Kent, Queen Anne's and St. Mary's are providing free testing in the wake of the hurricane.

The Maryland Department of Environment was telling people that, if their wells were in contact with floodwater, they should assume the wells are contaminated.

Health officials were concerned that residents who are busy with cleanup and insurance paperwork may neglect to tend to their wells.

No cases of illness related to tainted water have been reported in the state.

On the eastern shore, Isabel caused a long-term financial burden for crabbers and fishermen. A significant number of them lost freezers they need to store their inventory.


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