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Work isn't done after TX floods

BY JOSHUA LEWIS | SOUTH TEXAS | October 11, 1999

SOUTH TEXAS (Oct. 11, 1999) -- Floodwaters have long since receded

but the needs have not in areas of south Texas that became disaster

zones last October when Tropical Storm Charlie spawned flash floods

that destroyed 2,733 structures and damaged nearly 10,000 more across

32 counties.

"This hasn't leveled off at all for us. Usually there are stages [in

disaster recovery] but this one hasn't even hit the leveling-off

stage. I mean, we're still getting people calling and asking for

help," said Dale Peercy, construction coordinator for DeWitt County

Cares (DCC), one of several interfaith disaster response

organizations created in the wake of the flooding.

He looks at a board that lists homes currently under repair. There

are around 40 of them. "And I could probably fill that board another

couple of times anyway," he said. "And there are some cases I haven't

even seen yet."

Though the town of Cuero in DeWitt County was one of the hardest hit

in the disaster, other areas affected by the flood still have houses

to rebuild and still have a demand for volunteers. But the number of

volunteers has dwindled.

Peercy and his wife, Jean, who is the construction coordinator for

neighboring Victoria County, are Lutheran Disaster Response

volunteers who arrived in June.

"We hit the ground running, and we've been constantly trying to catch

up," Dale said.

Though damage in Victoria was less severe, Jean has begun paying

workers to fill the volunteer gap.

"We're starting to hire things out because we can't get any

volunteers. People think that the work's done, and it's not. You just

need to have people aware that even though it's been a year after the

disaster, there are still people who haven't even cleaned out their

homes."

A total of 3,553 Church World Service (CWS) cases were opened after

the disaster. Of those, 2,233 remain open, said Norman Hein, CWS

regional disaster facilitator.

Of more than a dozen interfaith organizations created by CWS, seven

continue to provide assistance, at this point, primarily with repair

and reconstruction of houses, Hein said. Every member denomination

has sent work teams to the area, he said.

But more are needed. DCC is still conducting damage assessments and

estimates and could use more help, Dale said.

"I think everybody has worked a lot. It seems as though, at some

times, we would like to have a lot more help. It's a big load on the

whole office. There is just so much going on and needing to be done

so fast. You know, a person can only go and do so much."

Much of the work has been on hold as volunteer numbers slacked off

because of hot summer weather and back-to-school preparations, said

DCC Director Mary Heard.

The organization is looking forward to the arrival of volunteer teams

from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) in

October. Three teams will stay three weeks each. The first group will

consist of 20 volunteers, said Joyce Boerman, CRWRC disaster office

coordinator.

Eva Tannehill, case worker and field coordinator for Seguin Area

Recovery, said she has one team of six Mennonite volunteers doing

reconstruction work now.

She has 32 flood-related cases at different stages of reconstruction

and another dozen less severe rain- and wind-related cases that she

can't even consider until the others are complete.

In a culture steeped in self-reliance, many flood survivors have been

doing the work themselves, Tannehill said. But some have found they

can't do it all.

"There's some depression that's starting to hit on some people. They

figured, 'Aw, we're strong,' or 'I have my own business,' or 'I can

do it.' And then they're finding that they just don't have deep

enough pockets to handle everything. And they don't want to have to

turn around and go, 'I need help.'"

Her organization tries to tell people that help is not a handout,

Tannehill said.

Her message is: "We're just here to help you work through this. We

didn't ask for the flood. We just all have to work together to get

through it, to build our community back up," she said.

Other survivors fared well in the recovery until they ran up against

the need for skilled labor in their rebuilding efforts.

"We've got some people that are, well, they're just kind of stuck

where they're at," said DCC's Dale Peercy. "They've done a lot of

things themselves, but then they come to the drywall part, and they

have no idea how to even begin to do that," he said.

Other skilled volunteers, such as plumbers and electricians, are

needed as well, he said.

Bonnie Vollmering, director of Victoria County Interfaith Disaster

Response said her organization has 85 cases still open, though it is

on track for the 12-18 month completion time estimated by CWS.

Her organization could still use volunteers, she said, because then

dollars spent on subcontractors could go toward building materials

and other needs, she said.

"The deal with volunteerism is that the person that comes and

volunteers gets the blessing more than the person that is actually

getting the work done on their home. And that's why I just wish more

people would volunteer, so they would get to experience the blessing

that comes from helping somebody else."

Posted Oct. 11, 1999


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