IA city sees long-term rebuilding

Stress for survivors and caregivers concern disaster responders

BY BOND BRUNGARD | CEDAR RAPIDS, IA | November 19, 2008



"A lot of people didnít think it would take so long to rebuild"

—Rev. Melisa Bracht-Wagner, Marion First United Methodist Church


Hundreds and hundreds of city blocks in this community of 120,000 were flooded by rising water in June, and 24,000 residents, about 20 percent of the Cedar Rapids’ population, have been displaced by the storm which leveled businesses and tallied up a price tag of about $2 billion needed to recover.

The numbers, however, are overwhelming, particularly in face of national headlines spouting, daily, the loss of jobs in the current staggering economy.

Charles Daugherty, executive director of Serve the City, a coalition of 37 congregations and seven non-profit organizations, which has helped in the recovery, said there blocks of empty houses.

“We don’t know where they are,” he said of the empty houses. “People don’t know what to do. It’s a sad situation.”

Since the flooding occurred, Daugherty and Serve the City has worked with Eight Days of Hope, a Tupleo, Miss. Ė based recovery group, to try and salvage homes in Cedar Rapids, and the 1,400 volunteers worked on 120 homes and about 300 other projects, from electrical, plumbing and Sheet rock work.

But while there are years and years of physical damage to overcome in the community, Daughtery said the future toll on the clergy and their own families could be just as overwhelming.

Daugherty said that five years seems to be the tipping point for clergy members who have worked through disasters, such as the 500-year flood that struck Cedar Rapids, before they start to leave.

So he’s enlisted the help of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation to train about 50-60 volunteers to help the clergy who are overcome and not wanting to continue in their current calling.

There were no deaths caused by the flooding, but there has been a suicide. Daughtery worries there may be more in the coming years, and he wants to also help caregivers and family members who may eventually be overcome by the recovery.

Melisa Bracht-Wagner is the associate pastor of the Marion First United Methodist Church, and she’s been overseeing the construction efforts of 200 teams of volunteers that have turned in 42,000 man hours of work during the recovery. She’s also working for the Linn Area Long Term Recovery Coalition.

Bracht-Wagner has been working in Cedar Rapids, and two nearby smaller communities, Palo and Olin. She said the recovery process could take as long as four years.

“A lot of people didn’t think it would take so long to rebuild,” she said.

But in the short-term, she said, many just want to be situated or somewhat comfortable in their homes for Christmas and the coming winter.

“A lot of people just want to get in for the holidays,” she said.


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