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Families struggle to reclaim NC homes

BY SUSAN KIM | VANCEBORO, N.C. | February 11, 2000

VANCEBORO, N.C. (Feb. 11, 2000) -- "The money is going so fast. We've

got $6,000 left," says Angela Andrews.

She is standing in the middle of the kitchen in her newly framed

house, which had to be gutted when Hurricane Floyd filled it with

several feet of floodwater in October.

The house still needs insulation, wiring, flooring, drywall,

appliances -- and everything else that goes into a house.

But first Andrews needs a plumber. "That's the hold-up right now,"

she says. The cheapest estimate she's got so far is $3,000. "And you

can't do the insulation until you do the plumbing."

"That's how this process is -- you can't do this until you do this,

and you can't do this until you do this."

But she must think she'll find a plumber, because she's been getting

estimates for insulation. The cheapest quote for insulation is

$1,600. Then she'll need 153 pieces of 12-foot drywall.

She and her husband are managing their flood-devastated lives --

along with their four-month-old and seven-year-old daughters -- from

a travel trailer issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency

(FEMA).

"The money just goes" -- she snaps her fingers again and again --

"and goes and goes."

But today the Rev. Roger Cope, pastor at the Vanceboro United

Methodist Church and president of the ecumenical Christian Help

Center stops by. First he just gives her a hug. Then he tells her:

"Don't buy drywall, we've got enough donated for you, just let us

know when and we'll get it here for you."

Andrews shows him a sticker from the county inspector that indicates

she must rough-in a smoke detector and also make sure the electrical

outlets in the kitchen are spaced at least four feet apart. They've

taken care of both tasks and are waiting for another inspection.

Her husband framed the house himself. "We're learning how to build a

house," Andrews says.

Her brother, her cousin, the rest of her family stop by whenever they

can. But it's just not enough. Like thousands of other flood

survivors in North Carolina, Andrews got help from volunteer teams,

many of them coordinated through faith-based disaster response

groups. They have put siding on the house, done carpentry work, and,

before that, helped clean out and gut the interior.

Andrews says she's grateful for the volunteer teams. But sometimes

she wishes she knew which ones were coming back -- and when. "So many

people stop by to help -- and I'm grateful. But sometimes they say

they're coming back, but they don't say when. Or they don't come

back, which means I need to schedule someone else. Only I don't

always know."

Sometimes volunteer teams that are unclear about whether they'll

return end up adding to the waiting game that Andrews and other flood

survivors are painfully playing.

But coordination is improving, and that offers hope for faster rebuilding.

As Cope drives away from Andrews' house, he passes Bob Mikesell, a

volunteer with one of several Church of the Brethren teams working in

the area.

"Do you have any plumbers with your team?" asks Cope. "We've got

plumbing holding up a rebuild right over there."

"We could probably handle that," says Mikesell, and he pulls into the

Andrew's driveway to talk to the couple.

"This is one of those serendipitous moments," says Cope. "It's

awe-inspiring at times, how God puts the right people at the right

place at the right time."

But for volunteers to continue their efforts -- and to increase them

in the summertime, as is expected -- the town needs building

materials. Eighty homes in rural Vanceboro alone are still waiting to

be completely rebuilt. That scenario is multiplied a thousand-fold

across North Carolina.

Meanwhile, families continue to live in travel trailers, where there

is nothing for children to do as emotional pressure grows.

Others have just tried to cover up ruined walls with new drywall. But

as old water wicks its way through the insulation, those homes will

be inundated with unhealthy mold by summertime, says Cope.

Other people have just left their doors open, their ruined belongings

in place, and gone to where FEMA inspectors, volunteers, and hope

can't find them.

In the town of Greenville -- some 45 miles away -- the city council

is discussing how to make people less vulnerable the next time

around. For many people, getting "back to normal" isn't enough if it

means being flooded out the next time around.

Gutting out houses has exposed problems homeowners weren't aware they

had -- rotting floor joists, crumbling floors, sagging roofs. For

low-income renters, the situation also remains bleak. In addition,

527 units of public housing were lost in the flood. New apartments

and rental units will be needed as flood refugees move out of FEMA

trailers, scheduled to be removed in spring of 2001.

But for now people like Andrews will do whatever it takes to reclaim

their lives. "I'm not ready to give up," she says. "This is home to

me."

Fortunately Cope isn't planning to give up, either. "To show you have

na´ve I was, I thought the water would go down and we'd be back to

normal in six months. Now I know it will be six years."

Posted Feb. 11, 2000


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