'It's not news anymore'

Past storms have left a legacy of flood damage across eastern states - and now those still-recovering communities could be facing new flood threats through hurricane season.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | July 7, 2005



"The April floods hit some communities that still hadn’t recovered from Hurricane Ivan."

—Justin Fleming


Past storms have left a legacy of flood damage across eastern states - and now those still-recovering communities could be facing new flood threats through hurricane season.

Lingering damage in many states has gone largely unnoticed by the media in the face of this year's rapidly developing new storms.

But it’s still there, reported leaders of faith-based and voluntary agencies this week.

In Maryland, there are 85 families still living in travel trailers or mobile homes issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the wake of Hurricane Isabel, which made landfall Sept. 18, 2003, just south of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. That storm marched up the eastern seaboard, killing 17 people and causing $3.37 billion in damages.

People’s homes are still being elevated in Maryland with the hopes of averting future damages, reported the Maryland Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster coalition.

In Virginia, Isabel’s impact in terms of flood damage was the worst since flooding from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes.

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, flooding three months ago followed floods from Hurricane Ivan in September. “The April floods hit some communities that still hadn’t recovered from Hurricane Ivan,” said Justin Fleming, public information officer for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Several long-term recovery committees - comprising faith-based and voluntary groups - are working throughout both those states to address unmet needs.

In Pennsylvania alone, FEMA declared 10 counties disaster areas, and the deadline to apply for individual assistance was June 13. Some 2,600 people registered for FEMA assistance.

Ivan brought the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta - and many other rivers - to levels at or near 100-year records. The Delaware River and its tributaries crested just below their all-time records set by Hurricane Diane in 1955.

The National Hurricane Center has been urging people to be aware of inland flooding during hurricane season. “While storm surge is always a potential threat, more people have died from inland flooding in the last 30 years,” reported Ed Rappaport of the National Hurricane Center. “Intense rainfall is not directly related to the wind speed of tropical cyclones. In fact, some of the greatest rainfall amounts occur from weaker storms that drift slowly or stall over an area.”

It’s a challenge to boost public awareness of long-term recovery when new storms dominate the headlines, admitted Barbara Tripp, director of the Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiatives (MERCI) in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

MERCI - which helped more than 2,000 people repair storm-damaged homes - is still helping people recover from Isabel, said Tripp. “We’re trying to finish all Isabel-related work by the end of August,” she said.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) recently finished some home repair projects in North Carolina as well. “The media have long gone and our memories forget the older storms as new ones have occurred,” reported Pat Harper of CRWRC Disaster Response Services (DRS).

“So why is it that DRS just recently finished up in North Carolina working on Isabel damage? The reason is that DRS is there for the long-term recovery,” she answered, reflecting the mission of her own group as well as many faith-based disaster response agencies. “People that have lost their homes or had damage sometimes wait two and three years for someone to help.”

With much of the public focused on Florida - by far the most hurricane-battered state last year - it’s also difficult to lift up needs in states that had less visible damage. Lutheran Disaster Response deployed teams in more than a dozen eastern and southern states in the wake of last year’s hurricanes. Church World Service - with seed money and shared expertise - assisted interfaith long-term recovery committees in many states, and many of them are still working to help family after family.

Back at MERCI, where volunteer teams steadily respond, Tripp said the secret is to keep telling people that long-term needs exist in the wake of hurricanes and other disasters. “We just keep telling them,” she said - long after they’re not reading it in the newspaper or seeing it on television.

“It’s not news anymore,” she said. “The assumption people make is that you finished that a long time ago.

“It’s not the glamorous part,” she said, “but we’re here and we’re doing it.”


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