GA recovery groups form

While some think Hurricane Dennis did little damage, others are still waiting to see if officials will allow them to go home.

BY HEATHER MOYER | SYLVESTER, Ga. | July 28, 2005



"I know some of the damage is pretty severe."

—Brian Goebel


While some think Hurricane Dennis did little damage several weeks ago, others are still waiting to see if officials will allow them to return home.

That is how life is now in Sylvester, Ga., where as many as 100 homes were affected by flash flooding during Hurricane Dennis. The storm dropped as much as eight inches of rain in a three hour period, said Dr. Thomas Latimer, and that was something the area wasn't prepared for.

"Nothing could've handled that kind of water," said Latimer, the chair of the Open Door Recovery Network (ODRN). "Some homes had three feet of water in them. They're calling this a 500-year flood."

ODRN is a newly-formed long-term recovery committee (LTRC) created to help the affected families in the southern Georgia counties of Worth and Colquitt. The committee is a coalition of local churches, local government agencies, and community non-profits.

Latimer credits representatives from Church World Service, Lutheran Disaster Response of Georgia, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief for helping to get the committee set up so quickly.

Quick is what the community needs, too. Some residents are just now being allowed to return to their water-logged homes, and most do not have the choice of being able to stay elsewhere until their homes are repaired. Latimer said most of the affected are low income families who lack insurance.

ODRN already has 15 applications for help so far, but that number is expected to grow significantly after a Thursday night meeting with community members. "We want to discuss the problems they're having and how we can help them," Latimer explained.

Some relief work has already been done in the damaged areas, including some significant "mud out" work by a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team. The damage in Worth County is mostly in the city of Sylvester. Latimer says Colquitt County will be a challenge because the damage is spread across the entire county.

Another task for ODRN is setting up an Adopt-A-Family program with the area's churches. "We're meeting with all the pastors in the county on Sunday, we hope that their churches can adopt a family and do the work that needs to be done in their homes," Latimer said.

Damage from Dennis spreads across Georgia. According to Bob Tribble of Lutheran Disaster Response, more than 740 homes across five states suffered some type of damage from high winds and flooding.

Tribble, who also serves as the president of the state chapter of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), also assisted in the formation of another long-term recovery committee in northern Georgia's Cobb County.

"There is no federal declaration in Georgia and the VOAD organizations are stepping forward to help the victims of Hurricane Dennis," said Tribble in an email. "Many families have lost everything and VOAD-led LTRCs are their hope for recovery."

Cobb County Disaster Relief LTRC is also a coalition of local churches, government agencies, and community organizations. More than 400 homes were affected in the county, which is just north of Atlanta.

According to one member of the committee, housing will be an issue there as well. "Right now we're providing financial assistance as we can," said Brian Goebel, associate area director for the United Way in Cobb County. "We're providing housing in hotels or helping with rent for apartments."

For Cobb County, he said, the flooding from Dennis was something the community has not seen in at least 100 years. And just like in Worth and Colquitt Counties, most did not have insurance either.

"I know some of the damage is pretty severe," added Goebel. "Some places had five feet of water in them. Powder Springs and Austell are the two primary focus areas for us."

Goebel said the committee is also just getting on its feet and will be accepting monetary donations and in-kind donations very soon. More churches and organizations are joining the LTRC every day as well, he added.

"There's a good coalition coming together here."


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