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NC recovery continues 2 years later

BY LARA BRICKER | GREENVILLE, NC | August 10, 2001


"We are finding as we are working with people, a real sense of relief"

—Roy Falgout


When Hurricane Floyd raced over eastern North Carolina in September

1999 and dumped over 20 inches of rain on the state, many residents

who had never been through a hurricane believed their homes and lives

would return to normal by that Christmas.

But as the second anniversary of the worst disaster in North

Carolina's history draws near, about 800 residents are still living

in temporary trailers put up by the Federal Emergency Management

Agency (FEMA), according to Tom Ditt, spokesperson for the North

Carolina Office of Emergency Management. Hurricane Floyd did an

estimated $6 billion in insured and uninsured damage, damaging more

than 67,000 homes and destroying 8,000.

County and faith-based response organizations are still receiving

calls from residents who have been living in sub-standard houses

since the hurricane.

A number of these residents are from low-income neighborhoods that

were affected by the flooding and simply did not bother to fill out

applications for federal assistance, explained Roy Falgout, the

president of the Wilson County Interfaith Recovery Committee. "Now

we're two years down the pike and we've been in houses where there

were snakes and things that make you think why are these people still

here," Falgout said. "My staff and volunteers have been overwhelmed

by some of the conditions they've found."

Many of those living in the FEMA trailers were unemployed before the

hurricane and have still not rebounded, Ditt said. "We've done as

much as we can do," he said. "A lot of these people have been in a

state of denial, they were barely hanging on anyway before Floyd hit."

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley last week announced the award of more

than $3.6 million in state disaster-recovery grants to help build new

subdivisions for survivors of the hurricane. Those funds will go to

build infrastructure such as roads, sewer and water lines that will

serve 411 new lots in developments going up across Eastern North

Carolina.

The most recent funds are part of the $836.6 million disaster-aid

package approved by the General Assembly two months after the storm

as part of the Hurricane Floyd Recovery Act of 1999. Previously, the

state has awarded $22.4 million in infrastructure grants funding

improvements to fund 2,321 lots.

Volunteers from the United Methodist Church's Western North Carolina

Conference opened the United Methodist Flood Relief Center days after

Floyd hit and remain busy, explain Tom Gilbert, the construction

manager for the group. "We still have a full fledged operation,"

Gilbert said, adding over 8,000 volunteers have walked through the

doors of their office since their efforts began. The group is still

helping 25 families.

The group is seeking out those who did not have flood insurance. And

while many of those people are still staying with relatives or

friends, their spirits have not been broken. "I don't like to call

them victims, I like to call them survivors," Gilbert said.

The outpouring of support from across the country has made the long

recovery process less distressing, said Michael Shaw, executive

director of the Twin County Interfaith Recovery Initiative. The group

is still working 17 cases between two volunteer work groups.

Volunteers from across the country that belong to branches of the

Church of the Brother and the Christian Reform Church have been

arriving weekly. "Quite honestly, we're maybe a bit ahead of schedule

now and that's good," Shaw said. "If we didn't have the volunteers,

we would never be where we are now."

The compassion of the volunteers has had a noticeable impact on those

flood survivors still recovering. "They lose hope," Shaw said. "But

if they have someone to listen to their story, even if it's over and

over again, and they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, it

helps tremendously."

The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, also called "The Buyout" program,

which has approved 2,074 flooded homes for purchase on a budget of

$149.1 million, has slowed the process for some in Wilson County, as

the buyout for another 1,800 homes at $103.9 million awaits approval.

"We've been a little slow getting to the construction phase of

recovery," Falgout said. "We were basically having a difficult time

identifying and working through the buyout issues."

Volunteers assisting in Wilson County are working on 37 homes at this

point, from minimal repairs to complete overhauls. "We are finding as

we are working with people, a real sense of relief," Falgout said.

"Because this has been going on for so long, people have become so

frustrated."

Some of the people Falgout has worked with are so overwhelmed by the

recovery process that they need to be helped through the entire way.

"We have to be really compassionate," he said. "In order to really

help, you kind of have to hold their hand and lead them through the

process."

The Salvation Army has worked closely with county groups and was able

to help distribute more than $1 million worth of furniture to

hurricane survivors. Other faith groups have raised funds for relief

and recovery grants, such as the Disciples of Christ through their

Hurricane Floyd Response Center. The Disciples of Christ have

provided more than $350,000 in grants in the aftermath of Floyd.

Volunteers from Lutheran Disaster Response are completing a two-year

mission under the guidance of construction managers Dale and Jean

Peercy, according to Gil Furst, Director of Lutheran Disaster

Response. Volunteers have completed work on 350 houses in North

Carolina since they began and help is still coming.

Recovery volunteers and state officials estimate there is at least

another six months of work to be done before all affected by Floyd

are back on their feet. And while they are looking forward, the

twisted road to recovery has been a long one. "It's just been this

long process of finding people, trying to work through these

complicated issues of who owns what, who's eligible for what,"

Falgout said. "It's been a nightmare."


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