Right now we're transitioning into the rebuild stage.
After several hurricanes pounded western North Carolina, the relief effort is shifting to the long-term.
The remnants of hurricanes Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne all caused significant flooding through the mountainous areas of western North Carolina. Hundreds of homes were destroyed or suffered significant damage as heavy rains forced creeks and rivers from their banks very quickly.
"This is some of the worst damage the western part of the state has seen in some time, that's for sure," said Gaylon Moss, director of disaster relief for the North Carolina Baptist Convention. Over 30 counties received federal disaster declarations due to severe flooding.
Right now, relief groups are working closely with the North Carolina Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NCVOAD), said Mike Patterson, board president of North Carolina Interfaith Disaster Response (NCIDR).
"One of the challenges we're facing is that the damage is so widespread," said Patterson, who is also emergency disaster services director for The Salvation Army in North and South Carolina. "We're looking to build even more of a coalition and reach out to local government and other organizations that are not yet part of the process."
Patterson said this coalition will become the new interfaith recovery group for western North Carolina.
Moss and the North Carolina Baptist Men have been very active thus far in the response as well. Doing mud-out, tear-out, and chainsaw work for several weeks now, the teams have completed over 400 work jobs for flood-affected families. "It's been practically nonstop for North Carolina since August 3," said Moss about the repeated hurricanes. "Right now we're transitioning into the rebuild stage. We expect to rebuild 200 homes."
The men have also been helping repair three flooded-out Baptist churches. Residents and church members have all been happy to see the North Carolina Baptist Men in their areas. "We offer free assistance, we don't care who you are or which church you go to," said Moss of how his teams work.
He added that the biggest need now is money for building supplies.
Patterson agreed, saying that housing is a major issue right now. With the cold winter months ahead, Patterson said they are trying to make sure people are in suitable residences.
Relocation costs are the focus of another relief agency active in Asheville, N.C. The Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM) is a social service agency that works with low-income families. Since the severe flooding, the agency has been helping meet the needs of the affected families.
"We're trying to get those folks who have fallen into the cracks," said Scott Rogers, ABCCM's executive director. "A lot of folks don't have anything, they lost all their belongings in the flood."
ABCCM employees have helped families buy new trailers or at least move into proper housing until their home rebuilds can be completed. The agency has also handed out food, clothing, and money to help residents pay bills.
"Many employees who worked in some of the hardest hit businesses in Asheville haven't been able to work for the past few weeks, and they may not be able to return to work for some time," explained Rogers.
"We're helping them with their rent and utility bills in the meantime."
Rogers added that his agency is also working with legislators to get some of the flooded properties bought out. "We need to get help for those who have been hit multiple times, they need to be bought out so they aren't relocating to the same areas."
Emotional and spiritual needs are arising as time passes as well. Rogers told the story of one woman who came into the ABCCM offices at her wit's end, telling the staff that she was behind in her bills and did not know what to do. "She just really needed to talk. She said she needed someone to listen while she got herself thinking properly again," he said. "We let her know that God is on her side, even if times are tough."
Over 160 families have received help from ABCCM so far, and that number is expected to grow as Rogers said his agency is there for the long-term. Considering the flooding was the worst the city has seen since the early 1900s, that long-term recovery process could take a year or more.
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