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Long-term recovery planned in IA

Nearly 25,000 homes reportedly damaged in Iowa alone during the record flooding

BY BOND BRUNGARD | IOWA CITY, IA | June 27, 2008

The water is still high in many riverfront communities near here, but faith-based disaster response organizations are providing immediate help for survivors and planning for a long-term recovery.

Mennonite and Amish farmers are among those those facing some of the worst flooding ever in the Hawkeye State. Mennonite Disaster Services is in the process of assembling personnel and a command center here to help with the long-tem recovery with a special emphasis on the farm community.

Scott Sundberg, the communications director for Mennonite Disaster Services who recently toured the flood damage, said the center could be open 6-12 months or maybe as long as two years to help those recover from the flooding here, which has caused billions of dollars in crop damages and warranted a Presidential disaster declaration for 70 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“We couldn’t see cars or low sheds,” said Sundberg, “it was just water and rooftops.” Nearly 34,000 homes have been damaged from flooding in the Midwest; nearly 25,000 of those homes are in Iowa.

The tour included meeting about 50 Mennonites and Amish farmers to view the damage. Now there’s a wait for the water to completely recede before everyone can get down to work.

As the crop losses mount during a year in which some have said will completely wipe out the growing season, Iowa’s farmers will need some kind of state or federal assistance to survive the estimated $3 billion in crop losses.

“That’s certainly something we will be looking into,” said Lucinda Robertson, the communications director for the Iowa department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

In Cedar Rapids, a faith-based initiative known as Serve the City, is bringing together members of all denominations to help with the city’s long-term recovery.

The American Red Cross is providing short-term assistance to help residents of the city and nearby suburbs and Rev. Jonathan Offt, of the Trinity Lutheran Church, said the city’s faith-based community is focusing ways to help now and in the future.

Volunteers are being coordinated and their skills are being matched with the needs of the recovery effort. And then are the victims of flooding, whose short-term needs such as food and shelter are trying to be met until long-tern solutions can be formulated.

“We are trying to do what we can and trying not to be a hindrance or duplicate services,” he said. “It’s been a difficult but wonderful experience.”

Floodwaters from Cedar River engulfed more than nine square miles of the city, covering 1,300 blocks and left more than year’s worth of garbage. Offt said there is still no power downtown and drinking water is still being distributed on a daily basis as National Guard troops and police from different states patrol the streets.

“It’s been mostly orderly,” he said.

There are also displaced workers denied of making a living as water flowed through and off city streets. Offt’s church belongs to the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod which includes 6,100 congregations. Offt said he would appeal to the governing synod to help those in need, which include about 40 member families of his church.

The Trinity Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids is a small campus that includes a school from grades K-8 with 200 students. The campus has been used as a shelter and a feeding station for volunteers and given space to a displaced dance school.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and other faith-based organizations are providing cleaning supplies to flood survivors. Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR’s the assistant general secretary for disaster relief in the United States, said his organization has also sent out thousands of clean-up kits to states such Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana. Case management teams are also in place to help families start their recovery.

“We’re hitting spots on all fronts,” he added.

As the muck-out soon gets underway, there will eventually be a time when the adrenaline slows and physical and mental exhaustion creeps in and suddenly stops people trying to recover from the flooding.

Both (UMCOR) and Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Dubuque are providing emotional and spiritual care for flood survivors and their caregivers.

UMCOR-trained counseling teams to help with the emotional toll of the devastation facing clergy, farmers and residents are being deployed.

“There is so much going on with people emotionally,” Hazelwood explained.

“Once they settle down and the debris is cleared,” said Joe Featherston, the archdiocese’s disaster services coordinator and a licensed social worker, “then they have more time to reflect on it.”

As teams get ready to assess the property damage throughout the state, Featherston is starting to assess the staffing needs to help handle the emotional toll when the adrenaline hits its peak and the stress can longer be ignored.

“There is a certain point when they say they can’t do it anymore,” he said. “They simply can’t stand to see that much disaster any more, and they simply say no.”

The water is draining out of Iowa and into the Mississippi River, where it’s scheduled to crest in some communities like Louisiana, Missouri. Louisiana is located about 70 miles north of St. Louis, and the river is expected to crest at 26.95 feet, about 12 feet above flood stage.

Roads are covered with water in this community of nearly 4,000 people, and it will take about two weeks before the water goes down here.

“We only have one road in and one road out of the city right now,” said Mike Lesley, the city’s emergency management director.


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Related Links:

• This blogger provides a summary of Iowa flood news: Blogging About the Floods

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