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NC residents face 'long haul'

BY JOSHUA LEWIS | NORTH CAROLINA | January 17, 2000

NORTH CAROLINA (Jan. 17, 2000) -- Residents continue to plod down the long road to recovery as many begin rebuilding homes washed out by Hurricane Floyd floodwaters in the fall.

Many damaged homes have been cleaned and gutted of ruined materials, such as flooring and drywall, said Charlie Moeller, Church World Service (CWS) disaster resource facilitator.

"Building will now be the big concentration," he said.

But inevitably, some people are left behind in the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other state and local governmental organizations.

That's where faith-based organizations are stepping in to offer a hand.

"We're beginning to deal with unmet needs," Moeller said. Most denominations have recovery efforts underway and roughly 20 interfaith groups have formed, he said.

"As with most disasters, the unmet needs problem only becomes seriously apparent after some time has passed."

Barbara Tripp, director of Disaster Recovery Ministries for the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, has assessment teams that continue to locate entire neighborhoods that haven't even begun tearing out flood-damaged parts of their homes.

"We find these neighborhoods sometimes that haven't been cleaned out or anything. The people are still living in their homes -- they didn't even know they could call and register (for government assistance). And, you know, you'd come across a neighborhood that might have 30-40 families in it," Tripp said.

Some survivors have no idea there is government assistance. "It's either a matter of: they don't know the assistance is there; they don't know that they're entitled to it; and, unfortunately, a lot of people just assume they're not going to get it anyway -- so why bother?

"So one of the things we do is to be an advocate for the family, to help them pursue that (aid)."

Applications continue to roll in through the FEMA hotline at a rate of 100 per day as the Jan. 18 deadline swiftly approaches.

And despite a FEMA estimate that federal and state agencies have supplied more than $834 million in disaster recovery assistance, it's never enough.

"We realize that after FEMA comes through and gives out all their money, a lot of people are still way short of what it's going to require to get them back into a home," Tripp said.

If the financial shortfall is small enough, the group meets it. If not, caseworkers help the survivors locate the resources they need to rebuild, she said.

Other delays are Mother Nature's fault. Some homes have simply not dried out sufficiently to begin rebuilding, she said.

George Strunk, volunteer coordinator for Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) based in Goldsboro, has seen many of the same problems.

"Unfortunately in society today, we just expect a quick fix: 'The government's going to strike a check and I'll be back where I was before.' We completely negate the natural element: how much humidity is still in the air, how much water is still in the studs."

There are building codes and inspections that can't be waived because of safety factors down the road, he said.

Strunk said some interfaith damage assessment teams around Christmastime were still finding as many as ten families a weekend that had cleaned up their homes but had not torn out any drywall or other flood-soaked materials.

"The pioneer spirit still exists in eastern North Carolina. They just clean up the best they can and get on with life."

And when blue and green mold spots continued to emerge from the walls, the residents would persistently wipe them off.

"The only way to get rid of that is to take the drywall out and let the thing dry out," Strunk said.

Such molds and mildews can result in serious health risks.

He cited a story relayed to him by a Catholic disaster response colleague in which a two-year-old had been brought to the hospital with an upper respiratory ailment.

The family's car had been damaged in the flooding and they applied for assistance on it, but floodwaters had just reached the bottom of their home and they didn't perceive any damage to it.

The insulation had wicked water straight up the walls, creating a fertile breeding ground for mold and mildew.

"And that's all the more reason why the faith groups have to get out there and almost go door-to-door," he said. "I'm wondering how many other hardy souls out there just did a rudimentary cleanup and did the best they could to get on with their lives and in the next short weeks, we'll be finding more of that throughout the state."

LDR, like other faith-based organizations, still has a lot of casework to do, Strunk said.

"To be good stewards (of the church's money), we're still trying to fight the FEMA deadline and make sure that everybody has maximized their opportunity to claim what they can from the federal government and state government, and sort out where we can pick up the pieces," Strunk said.

They also have volunteers on the way. "With spring break coming up, I've got teams lined up like crazy to come in," he said.

LDR is placing its teams with United Methodist and other organizations that have the ability to house volunteers and that have construction supervisors on site, he said.

That strategy also helps ensure as little duplication of effort as possible.

"We want to be a 'force multiplier,'" Strunk said.

The state is clearly in recovery for the long haul.

North Carolina Interfaith Disaster Response has recently hired Carolyn Tyler, a United Methodist minister from Arkansas, as executive director of the organization, said President Dennis Levin.

Fresh off of Hurricane Georges relief efforts in Mississippi, Tyler's duties will include offering consulting services and training on casework and grant writing for local interfaith groups, Levin said.

Strunk said he heard estimates that it would be a 5-6 year recovery effort.

In the next two to three years, Tripp said the United Methodists hope to rebuild 600 homes.

Her organization is currently rebuilding nearly 40 houses. That figure does not count the houses still being cleaned out in preparation for rebuilding. "It's a drop in the bucket to what needs to be done."

Posted Jan. 17, 2000


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