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Hope found in NC despair

BY SUSAN KIM | RALEIGH | February 7, 2000

RALEIGH (Feb. 7, 2000) -- Five months after Hurricane Floyd tore

through the Carolinas, residents sometimes worry the rest of the

nation has forgotten them.

Their towns are no longer under 20 feet of water. They have publicly

mourned their lost loved ones. The millions of animals that died --

along with the pervasive smell of death -- has at last been removed.

The plight of Carolinians seldom makes national news anymore. But for

thousands, recovery is like touching the tip of an iceberg.

Sometimes it's slow. Sometimes it's downright impossible. Many

tobacco, turkey, chicken, and pork farmers have resorted to selling

the land that's been in their family for generations. In turn, some

130,000 migrant workers in eastern North Carolina alone have been

forced to relocate without transportation and without money.

For the other thousands of families rebuilding their homes, this

winter's record two-foot snowfall delayed construction by about three

weeks. It also worsened the cumulative stress of dealing with

disaster.

Many parents became frazzled when their workplaces shut down and

their have children missed 15 days of school between the fall

flooding and the recent snowstorms. Arranging childcare or adjusting

to a smaller paycheck because of decreased work hours seemed to make

the burden of recovery even

heavier.

Plus, national news articles don't talk about the needs here much

anymore. "We are already beginning to feel the phenomenon of 'out of

sight, out of mind,' " said Charlie Moeller, Church World Service

disaster resource facilitator.

But despite all the difficulty there is also hope. More than 24 local

interfaith groups are making a dent in the needs of disaster

survivors. People are receiving government grants and loans. And,

even in severe winter weather, volunteers are still coming to help,

with even more expected in the spring and summer.

"Every disaster is completely different," observed Carl Miller. He

has been senior vice president of Lutheran Family Services in the

Carolinas for 15 years.

What does he see as most devastating about Hurricane Floyd? "So many

people were not covered by insurance," he said, comparing Hurricane

Floyd's extensive flood damage to the rain and wind damage caused by

Hurricane Fran in 1996.

Miller also said that Floyd's damage is so widespread and "in areas

that can least afford to be affected."

"This has destroyed people's livelihood, their schools, their houses,

and many of these people were struggling already. Now they're having

to take out loans on homes that were almost paid off."

The state-level economy, especially in North Carolina, "was knocked

for a loop with this," he added. "A lot of the tax base has been

affected."

Lutheran Family Services is working within an ecumenical

flood-recovery effort that is reaching out to survivors with unmet

needs.

Insurance companies have received Floyd-related claims totaling more

than $1.2 billion so far. The U.S. Small Business Administration

approved nearly 7,300 applications totaling $275 million to rebuild

homes.

As a licensed marriage and family therapist, Miller also knows the

emotional issues associated with disaster -- feelings of loss,

adjustment, and adaptation that put stress on families and

communities.

"Thousands of people are living in travel trailers, I mean large

families of five to seven people," he said.

It is the role of the faith community, he said, to respond to

disaster "long after the media has lost interest and long after

political figures come and go."

While each denomination responding may develop its own niche of

expertise -- the Baptist Men are well-known for their cooking

talents, for example -- help is offered to disaster survivors whether

they have a church affiliation or not, he explains.

"This is a people disaster," he said. "It's not a Lutheran disaster

or a Catholic, Methodist, or Baptist disaster."

The willingness of people to simply lend a hand to those in need "is

comforting," he said. In Wake County -- which was devastated by

Hurricane Fran but not so much by Hurricane Floyd -- people who

remember the pain after disaster are asking "what can we do to help

people down east?"

Interfaith leaders have also been grateful for compassion from across

the country. "A women's group in Florida donated quilts, there were

tractor-trailer loads of donated water, and a lot of donated bedding."

"A church just called me. They're planning to renovate the kitchen,

and they had extra canned goods and all kinds of things to donate."

So Miller put the ecumenical recovery network to test. He called

George Strunk, Lutheran Disaster Response coordinator for eastern

North Carolina, who in turn called ecumenical warehouses to find

space for the donations.

"There have been millions of dollars worth of donations -- and

multi-millions worth of volunteer labor," Miller said. "And that's a

good thing, because this recovery is going to be with us for years to

come."

Miller, who has been involved with human service of some kind for 31

years, said he sees more partnerships between the public and private

sectors, including those between faith-based groups and federal or

state agencies.

But, he added, he is concerned about what he calls "a just pass the

plate mentality" in which people assume that nonprofit and

faith-based organizations can pick up large portions of the funding

needed to help disaster survivors and others in need.

"Less and less money seems to be going into human services. Yet the

needs are still there."

Posted Feb. 7, 2000


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