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Houston residents come home

BY PJ HELLER | HOUSTON, TX | January 15, 2002

"I can't even say words to describe our feelings. All I can say is thank you."

—Rita Ferguson

It wasn't enough that Rita Ferguson got flooded out her

modest house when Tropical Storm Allison deluged this

city last summer. Then she was scammed by a contractor

who she paid to repair the damages. To top it all off,

vandals spray painted the outside of her house with


Now, with the sounds of hammering, sawing and scraping

coming from the inside and outside of her house, she is

looking forward to finally living at home again.

Ferguson is one of more than a thousand Houston

residents whose homes are scheduled to be repaired

thanks to the efforts of the Disaster Recovery

Interfaith, a loosely knit coalition of faith-based

groups working with the Allison Recovery Initiative.

"I just greatly appreciate everything they've done,"

Ferguson said as she surveyed the work under way on her

house. "All my prayers have been answered. I can't even

say words to describe our feelings. All I can say is

thank you."

Ferguson lives in the house with her son and a niece and

nephew and their mother.

Daryl Friesen of Mennonite Disaster Service is heading

up the five-person crew working on the house. Dale

Peercy of Lutheran Disaster Response is overseeing the

work as one of the construction coordinators for the

rebuilding effort going on in Houston.

Friesen, a 20-year-old from Manitoba, Canada, plans to

work in the area for five weeks. He has volunteered on

six other rebuilding projects elsewhere with his family;

this is the first one he is doing on his own.

Asked what brought him to Houston, he replied with a

laugh, "It's a lot warmer here than back home."

In fact, officials here are hoping that Houston's mild

climate will attract skilled volunteer labor from the

north to assist in the rebuilding efforts.

Friesen said it wasn't only the weather that brought him

to Texas.

There's also the personal satisfaction of helping

others, he said.

"You just feel good when you go back home and you've

helped somebody out when they can't help themselves,"

Friesen said.

Ferguson, choking up with emotion as she viewed the

construction work, said she can't thank the faith-based

community enough for its efforts.

"I really appreciate it," she said. "I was telling the

guys (working on the house) thank you. I know that's not

a lot and it doesn't seem like it's enough but it's from

the bottom of my heart that we really appreciate what

they're doing for us. It's beyond words."

Ferguson, like several other residents surveyed,

admitted she didn't know what she would have done if she

hadn't received assistance.

"I don't have any idea," she said. "We were just in

limbo. One of the contractors took our money and didn't

finish the job. Having these guys come in here and

finish the job is like a dream come true.

I can't even find words to describe what this means to

me and my family. It makes me choke up. I'm just so

grateful for what they're doing."

Clarice McCoin, whose home was also damaged, said she,

too, had no idea what would have happened had the faith

community not offered assistance.

"I don't know," said McCoin, who has lived in the same

house for some 30 years.

"I don't want to think about it."

McCoin said her house was built by her late husband. Her

two sons live next door in a home and adjacent trailer,

both of which also suffered damaged in the storm.

Jack and Ruth Friedi from Lutheran Disaster Response

were working on repairing the McCoin's house.

"Being a snowbird and being retired is OK but it gets a

little tiresome if you don't have something constructive

to do," said Jack Friedi, a retired Lutheran pastor.

The couple, from Rochester, MN, have responded to

disasters as a volunteer construction crew in North

Dakota, Minnesota, Georgia and the Virgin islands.

They have worked with Habitat for Humanity in Minnesota

constructing new homes.

"We decided to come to Texas because people needed

help," Ruth Friedi said. "We decided this was more of a

calling than Habitat."

McCoin, who has been living in an apartment since July,

said she has been surprised at the slow pace of the

recovery effort.

"That's what made it unbelievable and a nightmare," she

said. "But it's well on its way to being over."

Ferguson said she and her family stayed in their flood-

ravaged house for months after Allison deluged the area

with more than three feet of rain.

"We were just here praying," she said. "We didn't know

what to do, where to go, who to turn to."

She said she saw no messages on television about relief


"Nobody was telling anybody anything," she contended.

It wasn't until she was contacted by a social services

agency assisting the disabled and senior citizens that

help started to come her way. She moved out of her house

in mid October; Friesen said he hopes the house will be

ready for occupancy by the end of January.

Peercy said many of the homes to be repaired were

"disaster areas even before the disaster came."

"There was a lot of neglect," he said. "Some of these

folks had enough money for food and enough money to live

but not enough to replace shingles . . . so there's a

lot of rehab in doing some of these houses."

But he said the construction efforts, when completed,

would leave residents in good shape.

"Without a doubt they're going to be better off than

they were and probably 90 percent will be better than

they ever were," he predicted. "The next disaster that

comes . . . their houses will be more prepared and be

able to withstand different kinds of conditions. We want

them to be safer than they've ever been."

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What makes a community resilient?

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

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