Regional long-term recovery committees are forming across southern Wisconsin in response to summer flooding.
The four regional committees cover 14 counties where August flooding destroyed 26 homes and damaged more than 920 others.
The committees expect to handle at least 400 cases for those who need help beyond what insurance or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is able to provide, said Rick Tyler of the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
"We're getting local people (on the committees) so that they can administrate their long-term recovery," said Tyler, disaster response coordinator for the Heartland District of the conference.
Tyler was working specifically with the Region 1 committee, which encompasses La Crosse, Vernon and Crawford counties in southwest Wisconsin. Region 2 consists of Grant, Richland, Sauk and Iowa counties. Region 3 is Columbia, Dane, Green, Rock and Jefferson counties. Region 4 is Kenosha and Racine counties.
"The next process the committee will be doing is hiring case managers," Tyler said. "We're in need of people that will come forward in Region 1 to meet and assist in this recovery. We desperately need case workers."
Tyler said the United Methodist Committee on Relief will train case workers and managers for the committees. They expect numerous cases in each county to require long-term assistance in the next year.
FEMA voluntary agency liaison Richard Bradley said he was impressed by how well the counties, residents and recovery and government organizations have come together.
"It's been such a good collaboration here and it made very quick development possible," he said.
In some communities, that collaboration will be needed as residents wait to see what's next. In the hard-hit Crawford County town of Gays Mills, the Rev. Mike Christensen said local, state and federal governments were discussing buy-outs and possibly moving the community.
"Our recovery is kind of on hold as we wait to see what the community is going to do," said Christensen, pastor of Gays Mills United Methodist Church.
Christensen also pastors churches in Soldiers Grove and Seneca, but said churches there escaped damage while the Gays Mills church suffered extensive damage.
"It's a difficult process," he said.
Residents in La Crosse feel similarly, said the Rev. Diane Martin of Trinity United Church of Christ. Church members not only helped clean up a flooded day care building, but also had to tend to their own damaged homes. She estimated that 70 percent of her congregation suffered damage of some kind.
"It's just exhausting and demoralizing," said Martin, who was also helping the Region 1 committee. "Two of our families lost their homes and their rental homes. One family lost two vehicles. One woman said to me, 'You just don't plan on this.'"
Martin said many people didn't know what to do after the flooding. Her church helped provide information about such things as getting water from wells tested and applying to FEMA.
Her own home had water in the basement, and her daughter and grandchild came to live with her after flooding damaged their home, too.
"We have twice as many people now living in half as much space," Martin said. "We can do it, we know others are coping with worse. But it does make things slower and takes more energy."
Gary Grindeland of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) in Wisconsin said the best way to help those in need was to donate funds to the committees.
"The biggest thing is the donations," said Grindeland, vice president of church and community relations for Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in Wisconsin. "It's not over. Just because you can go through towns now and not see anything wrong outside, you can go through at night and none of the lights are on."
LDR was helping spread awareness about what aid was available, he added, and trying to contact people in more isolated areas who have not yet applied. LSS also sent counselors into all the counties in the past two weeks to meet face to face with residents.
Christensen said residents were worried about the approaching cold weather as well.
"It'll be difficult to live in a home much longer than mid-October because the weather will get too cold to stay there," he said.
That's why getting people involved with the committees is so urgent, Tyler added. He said he remains positive that the wide range of people, agencies and organizations on board is a great start.
"It's the cooperation of everyone," he said. "Without that we'd have nothing."
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