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Mold invades GA homes

Denied federal aid, hurricane damaged communities are frustrated.

BY HEATHER MOYER | FOLKSTON, GA | November 15, 2004

Black mold is invading the homes of some of Georgia’s poorest families.

“We’ve got 81 homes with problems down here – people are having to live in homes full of black mold,” said Monroe “Bo” Todd, Charlton County, Ga., emergency manager. Flooding from this season’s four hurricanes seriously damaged homes in southern Georgia’s poorest counties.

The St. Mary’s River separates Charlton County from northeast Florida. Last week local officials learned the county was one of 13 southern Georgia counties that did not receive a federal disaster declaration for Hurricane Jeanne.

Across the counties, a preliminary damage assessment showed approximately 100 homes that were either destroyed or suffering major damage – but that was just a preliminary estimate, said one Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official.

The region had already been hit hard with unemployment before the hurricanes struck. “People here are in very bad need of homes and money," said Todd. "Many don’t have jobs. And we have no money to help these folks.”

Nearly 20% of the county’s families live below the poverty level. In Folkston, the county seat and Charton County’s only major city, census data shows more than 26% of families live below the poverty level.

Representatives from the Georgia chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (GAVOAD) toured some of the homes. “The scene was very disheartening,” wrote GAVOAD vice president Bob Tribble in an appeal letter. “The smell of mold was in every house we visited, the walls were covered with ugly black mold, and floors (were) turning up.”

According to FEMA Spokesman James McIntyre, federal disaster declarations for individual assistance are determined on a case-by-case basis. He said preliminary damage inspections done by state and federal officials, the number of insured residents, and the state’s ability to assist in the area’s recovery are all used to determine a county’s eligibility for assistance.

Across Georgia, 550 requests for aid have come from non-declared counties. The other 12 counties denied the federal declaration last Tuesday were Thomas, Brooks, Lowndes, Echols, Clinch, Ware, Camden, Berrien, Atkinson, Irwin, Crisp, and Tattnall.

Similar to Charlton County’s economic make-up, US Census Bureau data from the year 2000 shows that almost all of these 12 counties have 18-20% of their populations living below the US poverty level. The highest numbers of aid requests came from Thomas, Camden, Lowndes, and Charlton Counties.

Todd said without the federal declaration, Charlton County commissioners and the City of Folkston are not able to do much for the affected families. The flooding that hit the county is the worst Todd has ever seen.

“There are a lot of frustrations down here. Housing is the biggest need right now.”

Todd is now appealing to other organizations for assistance.

Tribble, who also serves as the disaster response coordinator for Lutheran Disaster Response in Georgia, said the news of the denied federal declaration is very disheartening.

“These people are on their own now. The only possibility for help for them is for long term recovery committees – which I’m working on right now. We plan on covering every county that has a need.”

Forming the long term recovery teams will not be an easy task. “It’s going to be tough because these are very rural counties without many assets,” Tribble added.


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