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Recovery makes gains in Gainesville

Faith-based groups help flooded town as long-term recovery committee forms.

BY BOYCE BOWDON AND P.J. HELLER | GAINESVILLE, Texas | July 6, 2007

Even as a long-term recovery committee gears up to help flood-stricken residents in this rural Texas town, help is already arriving in the Cooke County community.

"We have had a tremendous response from church volunteers," said the Rev. Mark Fuller of Gainesville First Baptist Church. "At least 300 have come so far."

Among those who have responded: United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, Baptists from Texas and Oklahoma, The Salvation Army and Churches of Christ Disaster Relief.

"Just about every denomination has been represented," Fuller noted.

At the same time, community- and faith-based leaders were working to create a long-term recovery committee to assist the hundreds of residents who were forced from their homes by torrential rains June 17. Some 300 to 375 homes were damaged or destroyed, including a mobile home park that was washed away. At least four deaths were blamed on the storm.

"This is not going to be a committee for six weeks," said Merle Currie, chairman of the Cooke County Salvation Army unit. "This is going to be a committee that is going to be meeting regularly for the next two to three years."

Currie said that while the rebuilding effort could last that long, he anticipated that it would be three to six months before people were resettled either in their own homes that were damaged or elsewhere.

He noted that Gainesville is no stranger to disasters, having coped in recent years with such things as a flood and a fire. Attempts to establish a permanent recovery committee that could be activated in times of disaster were never successful.

"Hopefully when this is over we will have the committee as a full-time committee forever," Currie said. "I think it's possible to do that this time."

Gainesville also took in some 250 survivors from Hurricane Katrina, which he said put a strain on the town.

"In a small community like this, 250 people is a lot of people," he said.

Gainesville, a very rural city tucked up in northeast Texas near the Oklahoma border, has a population of about 13,000 people. The entire county has a population of 20,000.

Fuller has been working closely with residents affected by the storm. He said he was called the morning after the flood by the director of emergency relief for the county and asked to help match volunteers who were coming to help with the needs of residents.

Hispanics lived in at least 60 percent of the homes that were flooded, he said.

"In most of the houses, water was at least a foot deep and in some it was 3 feet deep," he said. "There was no way they could get their homes safe to live in by themselves, and they certainly couldn't afford to hire them cleaned."

Fuller and his wife were missionaries for several years in Panama and both speak fluent Spanish. Being able to speak Spanish enabled him to talk with the Hispanic residents and determine what help they most needed.

Much of the volunteer help has focused in cleaning away the mud, mold and debris left by the flood. Volunteers remove the floor coverings, sheetrock and insulation and then sanitize the houses with a spray. Fuller has promised the residents that after the houses have dried out sufficiently, volunteer crews will replace the insulation and sheetrock.

"It's going to take months, perhaps years, to help these folks build their lives back," Fuller said.

Among those being helped was 85-year-old Elwood "Woody" Poore, who has lived in Gainesville since 1985 and who lost nearly everything he owned in the flood.

"I got up about 6:30 in the morning and realized water was in the house," Poore recalled. "By 7 o'clock, it had risen to about 3 feet, and so I called 911 and told them I was trapped in my home by the water. They said, 'We'll put you on the list.' They said they had 200 or 300 cases of flooding and some of them were in mobile homes."

Neighbors who came to check on Poore managed to rescue him from the house, which was moved off its foundation by the floodwaters.

"One neighbor took me by one arm and another took me by the other arm and they carried me across the street to safety," Poore said.

Poore said he planned to repair his house - "we are having to start from scratch, really," he said - and move back in. For now, he was staying with a son in Garland and "I've already taken an initial step toward getting an apartment temporarily."

Poore, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Gainesville from 1980 until his retirement in 1987, is more accustomed to being on the giving end of help but said he appreciated the work being done on his house by faith-based response teams.

"The church groups have done a great deal to help me," he said. "Every bit of assistance really helps."

Fuller said assistance being offered to residents goes beyond just their physical needs.

"Our goal is to help people with physical needs, but we also want to help them with their emotional and spiritual needs," he said. "Many people we are serving would never walk through the doors of our churches. We now have an opportunity to show them Christ's love in a tangible way, not preaching to them, but standing beside them, helping them cope with their losses."

Support for affected residents has also come in the form of donations from throughout the U.S. As in most disasters, the one thing that is not needed is clothing.

"We have so much clothes that we can clothe everyone in Gainesville three or four times over," said Currie of The Salvation Army. "We have said, 'No more clothes.' We just can't handle any more."

A former Nike store in the town's mall has been turned into a warehouse to house donations of furniture and appliances. Currie said items received include beds, mattresses, refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers.

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief said it sent four tractor-trailers filled with new beds, food, water, cleaning supplies and other essentials to the area. Included in the first shipments from a national warehouse in Nashville, Tenn., were 400 boxes of food, each weighing 50 pounds. The boxes contained nonperishable food items and personal care items such as shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrushes as well as other household items. Toys for children were also inside.

Four local Church of Christ congregations were helping to distribute the items.

The Whaley United Methodist Church, meantime, had been serving as a shelter for people displaced by the flood as well as for volunteers, reported Stephanie Stogdill, the church's office administrator. The shelter has since been closed, according to state officials.

"During the first couple of weeks, we were housing and feeding about 300 people in our church," Stogdill said. "We are thankful we have the facilities to do what we have done to help people who have lost so much."

Fuller said the flood has given people pause.

"There's nothing like a disaster to cause people to reflect on their lives and plenty of people here in Gainesville are reflecting on theirs," he said.

Poore was among them.

"A disaster like this makes us realize how fragile life is, and that we need to use things and love people, instead of using people and loving things," he said.


Related Topics:

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More links on Flooding

 

Related Links:

Churches of Christ Disaster Relief

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission

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