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Volunteers help flood survivors

Residents in eastern states from West Virginia to New Hampshire face massive flood cleanup challenge.

BY SANDIE GARCIA | BALTIMORE | March 17, 2010

Thousands of homes were damaged in the eastern U.S. earlier this week after heavy rains combined with melting snow forced dozens of rivers over their banks.

New Jersey and Massachusetts appeared to have sustained the worst damage, although hundreds of homes in other states also have reported wind and water damage. Disaster response organizations from West Virginia to New Hampshire are caring for storm survivors and beginning official damage assessments.

About eight inches of rain fell on parts of New Jersey and the statewide average of 3.5 inches was the most ever recorded in a winter storm.

The Passaic River crested well past the "major flooding" threshold at almost 12 feet, nearly five feet above flood stage. According to the National Weather Service, the river has begun to recede, but not expected to fall below the ‘major flood stage’ of nine feet until Friday morning.

“We’re still in immediate response. We’re assessing what the needs will be, of course, like everybody else. We’ve started to distribute clean up kits. We have teams doing recovery all over the state,” said Brenda Beavers, State Director of Human Services for the Salvation Army

Many other organizations are also delivering services to help New Jersey residents recover. Cathy McCann of the New Jersey VOAD and the New Jersey Community Food Bank says that residents are still reeling from the wrath of the storm.

“There are at least seven deaths directly related to the storm -- people who have had trees fall on their cars, inhaled fumes from generators to keep their houses warm without power…. In addition to fatalities, there are over 330 homes in Bergen County that are badly damaged due to wind and trees falling on homes. They are damaged enough to where people cannot live in them right now,” McCann said.

In Somerset County, 700 structures including approximately 500 homes were damaged in the flooding.

“The American Red Cross is running shelters all over the state; we still have a lot of people without power, so some of the shelters will be open through the weekend, or as long as people need them. The Salvation Army has been feeding people at the shelters on a regular basis,” McCann said.

McCann also said that organizations like Tzu Chi, have already begun donating services to help the clean-up effort, Adventist Community Services have delivered personal care kits, Feeding America has donated food boxes, and the Salvation Army is amongst the organizations supplying clean-up kits to New Jersey residents.

“One of our disaster trailers is heading out to communities now, handing out all of these donated items,” she said.

Keith Stefanelli, Chair of Massachusetts VOAD says that there is a great deal of damage concentrated around the city of Boston and north towards the New Hampshire border.

“We’ve also had reports of several thousand homes with flooded basements at the very least,” he said, “and there are probably 700 that incurred damages beyond that - they were actually flooded out and destroyed.”

West Virginia was also hit hard by storms, and 34 counties will remain under a state of emergency until April 11 due to anticipated new flooding caused by rainfall and snowmelt.

“Raleigh, Fayette and Mercer counties were hit the hardest. Floodwater damage is where most of our damages came from. Bridges went out, hundreds of homes are damaged. We had rivers cresting at the beginning of the week, but there’s nothing that’s an issue right now,” said Cheryl Ingraham, Chair of West Virginia VOAD, “The main issue right now is cleanup. Highway and state agencies are doing road checks, making sure they’re safe without washouts or debris.”

Officials at the Raleigh County Emergency Operations Center have said debris could clog streams and cause even more flooding if another heavy rain strikes. Marty Agee, deputy director of the Raleigh County EOC, said state National Guard troops will begin picking up flood debris Thursday.

There has been an outpouring of support and help from various state, local, faith based, and nonprofit organizations he added.

In Massachusetts, the Red Cross set up shelters over the weekend, and early this week, one of which is still open for people who were forced to evacuate their homes because of flood damages.

In West Virginia, public support was similar. “The state and FEMA are currently doing damage assessments to sites affected. There have been numerous people helping. Local faith based organizations and nonprofits, Lutheran Disaster Response, United Methodists, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Presbyterians … are all doing debris removal as we speak. Everyone is coming together to really work and help out,” Ingraham said.

The eastern U.S. is not the only region that will face storms and floods this year. The National Weather Service reported Wednesday that more than a third of the United States faces a high or above average flood risk this spring.

The Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota will face the highest flood threats, forecasters said. As the snow begins to melt, flat terrain will be saturated, causing flooding, then feed right into rising rivers and streams.


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