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16 months later, Texas struggles

Leaky roofs and moldy homes remain.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BAY CITY, Texas | November 18, 2004

Leaky roofs and moldy homes still remain a year and a half after Hurricane Claudette struck southeast Texas.

The lack of media attention on southeast Texas after Hurricane Claudette struck has made securing funding and volunteers a significant challenge in the recovery process, said Jean Peercy, Lutheran Disaster Response construction coordinator in Matagorda and Calhoun Counties. "Folks still don't believe that Hurricane Claudette hit anywhere," she said of the July 2003 hurricane.

Progress has been made since Claudette struck some of the poorest counties in Texas - but it's been a slow haul due to the problems cited by Peercy.

Matagorda County has over 18% of its population living below the poverty level according to 1999 U.S. Census Data. Rev. Eric Klimpel of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Bay City said the hurricane only exacerbated the poverty.

"It wouldn't take much more than a category one (hurricane) or even a tropical storm to really hurt this area - and in this case, it did," said Klimpel, who also serves as board chair of the Matagorda Interfaith Goodwill Humanitarian Team (MIGHT).

Yet he agreed that progress has been made. "Things have come together, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is here and they're committed to the project. We're looking at about 30 or so remaining cases. Our projection is that by February, things will wrap up."

Klimpel said despite the slow recovery process, MIGHT and the community are all grateful for the help they have received thus far. He is happy to see how well the wider church community supported the county's needs, saying without the help from groups like Lutheran Disaster Response, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Presbyterians, MDS, and so many others - the area would just be yet another unknown place that had a disaster.

Many of the county's churches stepped up and adopted some recovery projects as well and provided pastoral counseling to families who requested it. For any families needing more counseling, cooperation with the state mental health agency allowed for referrals of the affected residents.

Homes with leaky roofs remain. Some families are living in mold-infested homes because they have nowhere else to go. For Peercy and her husband Dale, they are working with MDS to fix the roofs as quickly as possible. The construction estimates for some of the homes are difficult due to delays caused by lack of funding and volunteers. Since there were times when no funding or volunteers were available to patch a roof, the damage to the home worsened over time with additional rain and storms.

MIGHT board member Kimberly Effenberger said for three families whose homes are beyond repair, they are trying to secure mobile homes.

Through it all, Klimpel reflected that despite the constant need for volunteers and funding, his faith has increased. "I don't have the anxiety about recovery anymore because God has taken us this far. Every time we needed something, God came through for us. It's very humbling."

Once the recovery effort is completed, future goals for MIGHT include working with county and city officials more on community development and a disaster plan. The board of MIGHT will also continue to meet.

Klimpel noted that he has already seen a change in the community's outlook on disasters. He knows many residents who took time off to volunteer in Florida after this year's series of destructive hurricanes. That sense of understanding, along with the outpouring of support for MIGHT and the affected families of Matagorda County, is something for which he thanks God.

"The body of Christ has been very good to us. It's been wonderful, and I'm in awe of it."


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