'Army of angels' helps TX family

BY SUSAN KIM | CUERO, Tex. | December 23, 1998


CUERO, Tex. (Dec. 23, 1998) -- Two weeks ago, Edward Bowles received a much-

needed Christmas gift -- 30 volunteers who came to help him rebuild his flood-

damaged home.

Bowles and his family lost everything Oct. 19 when flood waters swept

through southwest Texas, causing 31 deaths and $620.4 million in residential

losses. When the volunteers -- from Tuesday Morning Emmaus Sunrisers Reunion

in Corpus Christi, TX -- arrived, Bowles said they looked "like an army of

angels. They moved furniture and debris out of the house. They pulled out

ruined sheetrock and insulation, and put the wood floor back down."

"Then on Sunday we met them all halfway between Cuero and Corpus Christi, and

they gave my wife and I a shower to replace all of our lost kitchen items.

Everything was gift-wrapped. What they did was so special."

Bowles, who had seven feet of water and mud in his house, is still living in a

trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He said he

hopes his family will be back in their home early in the new year. "We're

grateful and thankful that we can be together," he said.

Bowles' "volunteer angels" were coordinated through a still-forming flood

response organization, DeWitt County Cares, Inc. DCC is made up of

approximately 40 local organizations including churches from 10 different

denominations, a local foundation, service and fraternal organizations,

local governments, schools and the local food pantry.

"We want this to be a comprehensive effort," said the Rev. Tad Tadlock, pastor

at First United Methodist Church. "Our goal is to pool our resources to take

care of people's long-term, unmet needs. We want to help people get back to

being part of our community and to living in relative comfort."

DCC, recently incorporated and currently filing for 501(c)(3) status, is being

created to provide long-term disaster response now that two months have passed

since severe flooding along the Guadalupe River displaced 2,400 people here --

about one-third of the population. Many other organizations, including the

Salvation Army and the American Red Cross, are working alongside DCC to ensure

a continued recovery.

Volunteers from both the local community and from across the country have

cleared debris, built access ramps for disabled individuals, and are beginning

to rebuild homes. DCC, which has been officially designated to coordinate

volunteers, is still looking for more.

Throughout the community, people and organizations are meeting needs.

Churches are sharing sanctuary space as other churches make repairs.

Minimum security prisoners cleared debris and helped rebuild road and

homes. Schools served as shelters, then as sites for traveling medical

clinics that offered basic health care, tetanus shots, and counseling. The

National Guard relocated more than 1.5 tons of food when a local food

pantry was threatened by flood waters. Christian Disaster Relief dispatched

volunteer teams. And businesses such as American Glove and Safety, Abbott

Laboratories, Nabisco, and Aramack Food Service have made donations toward

Cuero‚s recovery as well.

DCC is still seeking assistance from foundations, organizations and businesses

to shore up funding and in-kind donations.

At weekly DCC meetings, individual cases are brought to the table and

addressed, be it a single parent who needs child care so she can meet with her

insurance agent, an elderly couple who still need help cleaning up, and a

woman who simply needs a visit and an encouraging word. DCC is also providing

a financial expert who can advise flood survivors on financial matters.

"There are so many unsung heroes in this community," said Nancy Blackwell, a

member of First Presbyterian Church who help to coordinates volunteer efforts.

At first, people in Cuero were daunted by the sheer numbers of those in need,

she said. "The school was the first shelter we had the night after the flood.

The sheer numbers were overwhelming. People simply had no other place to go.

We had a 102-year-old woman, and we had babies, and we had everyone in

between. Plus, the people key to the flood response -- hospital staff, school

employees, pastors -- were often the ones who lost everything."

One hundred of the county's 300 school employees were displaced by the flood.

How does a community -- and one new to disaster of this magnitude -- organize

a response? "We already had a ministerial alliance,"explained the Rev. Ray

Tear, pastor at First Presbyterian Church.

"But after the flood we realized we needed something more. We attended an

emergency briefing, and were asked if we would start an unmet needs committee

and an interfaith response group. Church World Service helped us coordinate

it, and instead of telling us 'do this, do that,' they acted in an advisory

capacity that really helped us tailor our response to Cuero's unique needs."

DCC expects to exist as long as there are flood-related needs -- and after.

"We plan to keep our structure, even if needs are met and we become a dormant

organization. That way we'll be ready if it happens again," said Tear.

Both Tadlock and Tear said they anticipate that mental health needs will rise

because people will not easily let go of traumatic flood-related memories and

losses. "I went to visit one family, and there was so much debris piled so

high around their house that it was like being inside a well," said Tadlock.

"This flood can be an entire sensory experience," agreed Tear. "You see the

debris, you smell the standing water, you touch your ruined furniture, you

hear countless stories of loss just like your own."

"I hope that DCC can be a model and help teach other communities to set up

disaster response," Blackwell said. "The sprit of cooperation here has just

been overwhelming."

Posted Dec. 23, 1998


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