Isabel vs. Floyd: What differs?

For North Carolina, Hurricane Floyd brought a lot of water, dumped it far inland, and let it sit.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | BALTIMORE | October 2, 2003

"We are actually having to recruit chainsaw crews, which we didn't have to do after Floyd."

—Barbara Tripp

For North Carolina, Hurricane Floyd brought a lot of water, dumped it far inland, and let it sit. Hurricane Isabel, in contrast, ripped up the coast with both water and wind damage, but left most inland communities more or less untouched.

That's one of the major differences between these two monster storms, and the types of damage caused by these two hurricanes have also obviously determined the course of disaster response, according to Barbara Tripp, executive director of the Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiatives, in Goldsboro, N.C.

The duration of the disaster is perhaps the biggest difference between these two storms, Tripp said.

"At this point after Floyd, we were still flooded," she said. "We were still in the emergency phase."

That's definitely not the case this time around, when the floodwater receded almost immediately and responders were able to move right in.

Another big difference is the result of all the wind damage - the downed tree limbs that led to widespread power outages.

The type of damage, of course, doesn't matter much to the people affected, but it does dictate the type of response.

"The people out there who have damage well it doesn't make any difference to them," Tripp said. "We are actually having to recruit chainsaw crews, which we didn't have to do after Floyd. Floyd was not a windstorm. Floyd was just rain."

In addition, the existence of interfaith groups prior to Isabel made response more rapid. Many of these groups were organized in direct response to Floyd.

"We were already here when this one hit," she said. "So it was a lot quicker and easier."'

Volunteers brought in by these organizations were also ready to be called in again, she said, and some of these people eagerly called in to ask if they were needed again. Tripp has put these people to work and continues to "recruit them from anywhere we can get them."

Carolyn Tyler, executive director of North Carolina Interfaith Disaster Response, is working with Charles Moeller of Church World Service to a handful of these quiescent interfaith organizations back into operation. In addition, they are helping set up another dozen interfaiths, in part by holding a training session on Oct. 21.

In doing all this, they are learning a lot about the needs of particular North Carolina counties, and figuring out what kind of long term response these areas will need.

"I think we've had a very successful week," Tyler said. "It's so much easier than going out and starting from scratch."

For The Salvation Army, cooperation between disaster response groups - particularly The Salvation Army and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief - is one the distinguished marks of Isabel response, said John Edwards, a Salvation Army spokesman.

This collaboration with Southern Baptists "was literally a Godsend," Edwards said. "Relatively early in the response phase, we encountered great difficulty in supplying 24 Salvation Army mobile kitchens because the area was so spread out."

The North Carolina Baptist Men came to the rescue with a massive mobile kitchen capable of cooking 20,000 meals a day. This kitchen allowed The Salvation Army vans to pick up meals from a central location then distribute them to afflicted areas.

"It has been a blessing to work with them," he said. "We can not take any personal responsibility or pride in the success of any of these collaborations. This has been nothing less than divinely orchestrated. We are very cognizant of that."

This partnership, Edwards said, may have had its original inception in Floyd, but it solidified when the two groups working together at the Pentagon following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. That led to a planned coordination of their work in Isabel.

"This is the first time that I personally have experienced this level of organizational cooperation in a disaster area," he said, noting a marked "absence of turfism."

Another faith-based organization, Operation Blessing, run by the Christian Broadcasting Network, also had an instrumental role in Isabel response. This group provided a refrigerated truck trailer "which has been invaluable to us," Edwards said.

But The Salvation Army also encountered significant difficulties after Isabel, which were not an issue subsequent to Floyd. Communication and logistics, he said, were the most significant of these problems.

"Our dependence on cellular telephones created some difficulty in the logistics of our operations and particularly in the deployment of our mobile kitchen." this was unrelated to flood. "This had to do with geography. This area in places is sparely populated, and there are some very remote areas that we have been serving."

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