Hundreds seek help in SD after flood

Volunteers needed in Aberdeen.

BY HEATHER MOYER | ABERDEEN, S.D | May 19, 2007



"Many calls are from people who are elderly and single. They really cannot deal with this all, financially or physically."

—Rich Kronfeld


More than 300 families have requested flooding cleanup help from disaster response agencies in Aberdeen and more volunteers are needed to assist, according to one of the responding organizations. Some areas of the city are still under water.

"There is a high level of frustration," said Lisa Adler, director of Aberdeen area programs for Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of South Dakota. "We've talked to some families whose homes were condemned and they can't live in them. They're not sure what they'll do next."

More than 8 inches of rain fell in the region May 4-5. City engineers have condemned 25 homes, and more were being assessed. Some condemned homes may still be salvageable.

South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds has requested a federal disaster declaration for Aurora, Beadle, Brown, Clark, Davison, Hanson, Hutchison, Jerauld, Miner, Sanborn, Spink and Yankton counties.

Adler said that while the LSS response was focusing on Aberdeen, the united response organizations and churches were also assisting flood-affected families in the towns of Claremont, Columbia, Groton, Warner, Frederick, Stratford and Westport. Flood buckets from the United Methodist Committee on Relief were sent to help as well. A long-term recovery committee is being formed.

"We're looking at all denominations in the area to come together and form this team and meet the unmet needs of the communities," Adler said.

The best way to help affected families is to either volunteer or donate funds to the long-term recovery committee, she said.

Requests for help continue to come in and volunteers were stretched thin. Volunteers have helped complete 206 home cleanups on the LSS list.

Rich Kronfeld of Nechama Jewish Disaster Response said that as some volunteer teams clean out basements, they find more problems.

"We worked in two or three homes and after we clear it out, we exposed cracks in the foundation," he said.

Adler added that some homes were seeing more foundation damage because homeowners pumped out the basements too quickly, causing the pressure around the foundations to buckle walls. Others have torn out and rebuilt too quickly and mold is now an issue for them, she said.

Volunteer teams from Nechama came to Aberdeen last week and worked all weekend. Kronfeld remained in town this week but said the number of volunteers has significantly dwindled.

"The volunteer situation is pretty sporadic," said Kronfeld, Nechama's operations manager. "There are not enough volunteers."

Nechama teams have cleaned out 20 homes. More teams may arrive from Minnesota this weekend. Besides clearing out flooded basements and first floors, Kronfeld said just being a presence seems to help the families.

"That's part of our job - to just listen to them and let them talk," he said. "Even if we don't do much besides move a few boxes, it still makes them feel better to have someone there to help."

Adler said Aberdeen has a large elderly population and many residents do not have family nearby. For those people, she said, cleaning out a flooded home is not easy.

"There's one couple we're working with - they're both in their 80s," she said. "They've got no family around to help. The water has receded in their finished basement, but they haven't gone down yet to touch anything. They physically can't manage it."

Kronfeld agreed, having been to some of those families' homes with the Nechama volunteer teams.

"Many calls are from people who are elderly and single," he said. "They really cannot deal with this all, financially or physically."

The two also worry that others in similar situations are too proud to seek help.

The loss of homes and belongings was also taking an emotional toll on the residents. Adler said many people are grieving and are overwhelmed as to what they should do next.

"Housing was an issue before this happened," she noted. "We're dealing with young families with kids, too. They're very overwhelmed. Some of them are dealing with landlords who won't clean up properly. The families don't know where to go."

Adler said offers of help, supplies and funding have come in from across the nation.

"There are a lot of positive things going on, too," she said. "We've had an amazing show of support from everyone and have gotten volunteers and donations from all over."

She added that the city and county governments have also been helpful in the recovery, which she said will be needed for a long time as hundreds of families repair or rebuild homes.

Adler said donations of funding or gift cards will help cover things like furnaces, hot water heaters, medication, dehumidifiers and other items that insurance or government funding won't replace.

"This is the worst flooding ever to hit Aberdeen," she said. "The weather service guys said it was a one in 10,000 years occurrence. It rained non-stop for so long, and the wind was blowing 60 to 70 miles per hour. It was unbelievable to be in, the windows were shaking. It felt like what I would imagine a hurricane to be like. It wasn't just a little rain, it was a downpour."


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More links on Flooding

 

Related Links:

Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota

Nechama Jewish Disaster Response

United Methodist Committee on Relief

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