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Floyd recovery lingers for NC

More than three years have passed since Hurricane Floyd struck North Carolina.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. | December 19, 2002

"We still have flood survivors who don't have adequate housing."

—C. Michael Shaw

More than three years have passed since Hurricane Floyd struck North Carolina.

But for C. Michael Shaw, the damage caused by Floyd is not a distant memory. It's a reality he deals with every day.

Shaw, a deacon at the Metropolitan Baptist Church of Rocky Mount, serves as coordinator of the Twin County Interfaith -- a group that serves both Nash and Edgecombe counties and has hosted more than 10,000 volunteers and repaired more than 215 homes.

The interfaith committee Shaw runs operates out of the Edgemont Presbyterian Church, where he has a modest office.

At the peak of recovery efforts, Shaw had a full-time staff of six, and the church was constantly bustling with volunteers.

Shaw has had volunteers come in and stay for more than a year-such as Christian Reformed World Relief Committee members from Michigan and Canada, and workers from the Church of the Brethren from Maryland.

Shaw has also received a lot of help -- in the form of building materials-from the Methodist-run Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiative (M.E.R.C.I.) in Goldsboro, N.C. He receives up to $2,500 in building material per project from M.E.R.C.I.

Shaw has also been successful in getting construction supplies from another source -- the junk pile.

After Floyd, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) initiated one of the largest housing buyouts in the agency's history, in order to convince people to move out of areas particularly susceptible to flood.

These FEMA-purchased houses were on their way to a landfill. But before the houses were demolished -- Shaw and his teams went in and salvaged what they could -- windows, doors, hot water heaters, toilets, kitchen sinks -- and used them in other construction projects.

"We were able to save quite a bit of money with that," he said.

Shaw still has some of these salvaged materials stored away in an old tobacco warehouse, along with all kinds of other donated items, including a 1988 Buick Century that Shaw plans to give to a family who needs it.

While the flow of incoming volunteers has slowed, Shaw still has housing for 32 volunteers-bunk beds, a large kitchen, showers, laundry facilities and bathrooms.

Three years after Floyd, there yet remains work to do.

"We still have flood survivors who don't have adequate housing," Shaw said.

A few teams are scheduled to work on the remaining projects: a group of Presbyterians is slated to come in after Christmas.

This team will provide a new roof for a family whose home was severely damaged by Floyd. For three years they been living under a roof with a huge hole in it, covering the hole with a large tarp. Shaw found the family six months ago. "They didn't ask for help, and they didn't know where to go," he said. And Shaw suspects that there may be other families out there in similar situations; that's one reason his interfaith will remain operational until September 2003.

The other reason, he said, is community development-to make communities better than they were before Floyd, and "not just be a Band-Aid."

Locally, the economic situation is not very good.

Major settlements against the tobacco companies haven't helped the Tobacco State, which has seen thousands of layoffs in the last few years as a result.

Plus local textile companies and a diesel engine manufacturer have also let go of plenty of employees.

"It's been rough," he said. "There are a lot of people in desperate situations."

Shaw gives the example of three generations of people who have lived in the same rental house, and who have paid enough rent to cover the cost of the house five times over. His goal is to encourage families like this to move into their own homes.

The results can be quite tangible to a community, he said.

"If you have a lot of ownership, then people take pride in their community," Shaw said.

But this effort to transform an interfaith disaster recovery group into a community development project hit a major roadblock --lack of funds.

Shaw said he put in an application for a grant from the Rural Development Committee, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.

But Shaw said the application was rejected, and that the letter from the department cited "a shift in priorities" at the department for the rejection.

He intends to apply for other government grants. But even without them, groups like Habitat for Humanity use the Edgemont Presbyterian Church as a base of operation, and carry out the very community development projects Shaw hopes can revitalize low-income communities.

But even if all the residual damage from Floyd and all the housing woes were ameliorated, Shaw said his interfaith will still serve an important function: preparation for the future.

For hurricanes are hardly rare in North Carolina, and judging from a recent hurricane prediction issued by Dr. William Gray of the University of Colorado, the state may see some serious wind and water damage in 2003.

Shaw, however, is confident that the Twin counties will be adequately prepared, mainly because of the infrastructure created because of Floyd.

"We're able to get out in the trenches," Shaw said. "We know the areas so we can get the people out there to do the assessments quickly."

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