Faith groups help Las Vegas

The desert that is home to the city of Las Vegas is not famous for flash flooding.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | LAS VEGAS | September 12, 2003

"It looks like there's going to be some need to do casework."

—Larry Powell

The desert that is home to the city of Las Vegas is not famous for flash flooding. That's one reason why video images of stranded firefighters being rescued by helicopter during Aug. 19 flooding were so shocking.

The effects of that unusual event nearly three inches of rain fell in less than 30 minutes on a community in northwestern Las Vegas are still being felt, and several organizations are working to help dozens of families whose homes were damaged by water and mud.

The Canyon Ridge Christian Church is one of the groups providing help to the affected neighborhood. Seven families from its 4,000-plus-member congregation were among those hard-hit by the flooding.

So far more than 80 church volunteers workers have helped clean up more than a dozen homes, according to Virginia Rust, volunteer coordinator for the church. The biggest problem they have had to deal with, Rust said, is that none of the people affected by the disaster had flood insurance.

"Most homes had up to three feet of mud inside the homes," Rust said. "Just trying to walk down the street to their houses was a nightmare."

In the past few weeks, church volunteers have provided all kinds of assistance to the neighborhood. Much of the help has been in cleaning out the muck and rotten sheetrock and plywood, but volunteers also distributed home-cooked meals to flood survivors as well as emergency workers.

New drywall has been put up in the homes her volunteers have worked on. Some of the homes have been re-carpeted, she said. Painting is the main work that remains to be done, she said.

"It's going to be back to basics for these people," Rust said, "but they'll be all cleaned out."

In addition to the response of the Canyon Ridge Christian Church, a Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) coalition is being reactivated for the Las Vegas area, for the purpose of providing long-term assistance to flood victims.

"Currently we don't have a VOAD active in the southern Nevada valley," said Loretta Moses, a development officer for the American Red Cross who is working to energize the VOAD.

So far, the group has met twice, and is "pretty much within our very beginning stages," Moses said, but she hopes that the VOAD will soon be providing long-term case management for residents in the flooded neighborhood.

"It looks like there's going to be some need to do casework," said Larry Powell, a consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief who has been attending the VOAD meetings. "It's really in just the first stages now. But somewhere along the way we're going to have to get in on the ground and do some case management."

Powell said the VOAD "is looking at 30 families in dire need of assistance that we know of right now." That number will likely go up as caseworkers go door-to-door through the community, he said.

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) is also monitoring the situation in Las Vegas, said Jim Shelley, an MDS field consultant who just made a damage assessment of the neighborhood. MDS will only respond if called upon by groups in the city.

"It looks like the city can handle what we've seen, without outside assistance, from what we've seen," Shelley said.

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