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MS group addresses survivors' needs

BY GEORGE PIPER | BILOXI, Miss. | February 26, 1999

BILOXI, Miss. (Feb. 26, 1999) -- Examining a stack of needs assessments from

damage caused by Hurricane Georges six months ago, Carolyn Tyler sees a

pattern forming for Mississippi's Gulf Coast residents: Elderly people

unable to repair damages. Adults and children becoming sick from mold and

bacteria. Holes in roofs that let rainwater in.

"When we started doing the assessments, we were finding so many roofs still

leaking," she says.

It's obvious to Tyler that these people need safe, sanitary living

conditions -- a tough task in an area where poverty and doing without can be

a way of life without the added burden of a hurricane. But that's one

objective for Tyler, who is executive director of Mississippi Coast

Interfaith Disaster Recovery (MCIDR), the organization coordinating recovery

in the three counties bordering the Gulf of Mexico.

Georges roared ashore Sept. 28 after cutting a destructive swath the

Caribbean. In addition to damaging winds that tore off rooftops, heavy rains

flooded coastal and inland homes and caused sewer backups in cities and

towns. Most damage occurred in Jackson County and in the cities of Biloxi

and Gulfport.

Beyond the glitzy casinos along the Mississippi Sound are poor housing

conditions that complement the rampant poverty. Homes were in such bad shape

before Hurricane Georges, making it tough for assessment teams and MCIDR

staff to decide where to allocate its construction resources. Tyler adds

that some survivors indicated that prior hurricanes caused current

structural damage, but proper repairs never ocurred.

"They're all pretty needy to start with," she says.

Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) sent 31 volunteers who

knocked on

some 5,000 doors in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties and conducted

needs assessments. New cases continue to flow into MCIDR's office, but Tyler

knows that not everyone who needs help in the 1,200 square mile coverage

area will be contacted or apply for assistance.

The interfaith's latest open caseload is now 780, including some 245

requiring varying degrees of construction. The first building teams arrived

two weeks ago, with emphasis placed on homes with roof damage and families

who face approaching deadlines to vacate Federal Emergency Management Agency

temporary mobile homes.

Besides construction needs, most residents lost appliances and furniture.

MCIDR also is helping with utility bills, rent payments and storage costs in

some cases.

The interfaith works with local American Red Cross chapters and other

agencies and organizations to fulfill unmet needs. Tyler wants MCIDR to

concentrate mainly on rebuilding, while farming out other unmet needs to

groups like Christus Victor Lutheran Church, which has an unmet needs fund.

Last week, CRWRC had 14 volunteers from three states and Canada

working on recovery. Also included were 10 United Methodist

volunteers from North Carolina, eight Mennonite workers from Wisconsin and

seven United Church of Christ helpers from Missouri. A group of 80 youth and

adult interdenominational volunteers arrived this week.

"We're been racing to try to stay ahead because we've had so many here at

once," she says.

MCIDR will need another $600,000 to complete the two-year recovery, Tyler

says. That's in addition to some $146,000 already raised for the effort.

Money is needed for building supplies, unmet needs, volunteer expenses and

MCIDR's program staff. Tyler also is applying for grants through Back Bay

Mission (United Church of Christ), which is housing the interfaith and

acting as the fiscal agent.

But while MCIDR faces an uphill battle, the recovery hasn't been without

bright spots.

United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and CRWRC have committed work

teams through the summer, and other faith-based organizations and churches

have

promised help.

Local and national media have promoted MCIDR work, says Tyler, and U.S.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, (R-Miss), dropped them a letter to

commend the organization and promise to help if possible.

MCIDR also fulfills an advocacy role for survivors who need help with

insurance claims, making appeals to FEMA or other assistance.

"We've been successful at advocating and working closely with FEMA in a way

that we've been able to help a number of people get more money," she says.

Over the next few months, Tyler hopes to continue the rebuilding and

advocacy work and maybe get some volunteer help in the office. With more

than 200 construction projects pending, Tyler hopes it will be possible to

provide a quicker turnaround on assistance applications, which need

verification on things like proof of ownership and building permits before

construction managers can begin their work.

Updated Feb. 26., 1999


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