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‘So much need’ in Gulf Coast towns

Disaster response organizations continue to identify communities devastated and need of assistance.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | SABINE PASS, TX | October 6, 2008

When Hurricane Ike hit the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana last month much attention focused on Galveston but smaller towns and communities were also devastated by the disaster.

"We've been stumbling into areas where the clean up hasn't even begun," said Scott Sundberg, director of communications for Mennonite Disaster Service.

"People are starting to head back to look at their homes and there isn't any place for them to stay. We're trying to figure out (how to help) them."

The Mennonites and other faith-based organizations that have been sending groups to areas outside Galveston and Houston and are calling in more volunteers to help.

"We're talking about places that aren't on the map, really," Sundberg said. "Little places that no one was going to, but we're calling in more volunteers."

A spokesperson for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) said one of those places where response was slow to arrive was in Sabine Pass, TX. A suburb of Port Arthur, about 45 miles north of Galveston at the Louisiana border, Sabine Pass was nearly destroyed by the storm surge created by Hurricane Rita three years ago. Just beginning to recover, the area was in the devastating northeast "back side" of Hurricane Ike, which brought with it a 13-foot storm surge.

Emergency officials report that every structure in the community of about 500 persons that was not built up from the ground was severely damaged, destroyed, or washed away.

The MDS teams that were sent out shortly after the storm hit went first to Buna and Evadale, TX. Ahead of the volunteers, Disaster Response Coordinator Jerry Klassen and his wife Doreen had been near by throughout the storm in Jasper. They were out checking the area around them as soon as it was safe to do so.

A phone call to Indiana brought a self-contained crew with chainsaws and tractors to pull trees from houses and roadways. They were welcomed by the community and spent time working and resting in tents around the area.

Klassen said the volunteers came not knowing how much work would be involved, but ready to do whatever was needed.

While volunteers are responding, Sundberg said donations are have been slow to come in. "There is just so much need," he said.

Kathy Kraiza of the Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, LA where UMCOR stores supplies for their national disaster relief efforts said they have been sending flood buckets and health kits to Texas in record numbers. Supplies, she said, are running low and a call has gone out to all the churches to replenish the buckets and the kits.

"The need is so great in Texas from Ike. So many people lost so much," Kraiza said.

Weary volunteers press on. Long term recovery teams from a variety of denominations are in place. Short term teams are coming and going. Sundberg said a new kind of volunteer, what he calls "volun-tourists," has become prevalent with this disaster and others.

"Very few people are in jobs where they can drop everything and come help for an unlimited amount of time," he explained. "People are doing what they can for a weekend or a week. Whatever they can do, they're doing it."


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