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VA recovery looks long-term

Yulanda Humphreys still hasn't walked down to the water where Grandview Fishing Pier stood before Hurricane Isabel tore it away.

BY SUSAN KIM | HAMPTON, Va. | November 17, 2003

"The sad thing is you don't see those big block parties going on like you did when the power was out."

—Yulanda Humphreys

Yulanda Humphreys still hasn't walked down to the water where Grandview Fishing Pier stood before Hurricane Isabel tore it away. The lifetime resident of Hampton, says, simply: "I'm not ready for it."

"I haven't mustered the courage to go that far," she said.

Every day she has to see the bare places that used to be the trees she played under as a six-year-old girl, she said. "I remember taking little rocks and making houses under those trees. And after the storm when I saw they were gone, my heart was heavy and my eyes were puddling up, and I thought: 'oh, Dear Glory.'

"Then I heard the pier was gone and I thought, 'oh, my,' and I just walked away," she said.

Now she sees others and sometimes joins them as they walk around the community, reminiscing about the landmarks and houses and piers they thought would always be there.

Now that Hurricane Isabel, which made landfall Sept. 18, has long since left the national headlines, the state of Virginia faces a long, unglamorous recovery.

And the excitement of the emergency phase has long since worn off, too. "The sad thing is you don't see those big block parties going on like you did when the power was out," said Humphreys. "Somebody would pull out a grill and everybody would eat. The camaraderie was almost smothering," she said.

"Now people have tried to go back to their routines, and that's a good thing but it sure does make me sad."

Some people, especially in hard-hit Poquoson, are so far from a sense of normalcy it's as if Isabel just hit yesterday.

"There are still many yards that haven't been cleaned up, trees that haven't been cut up, debris that hasn't been moved to the roadside," described Thomas Kleinert, pastor at the First Christian Church in Hampton. "In Poquoson alone, hundreds of people live in poorly insulated emergency trailers, and many families still live in their homes without heat, and the weather will get really cold."

Kleinert described a family with four kids with a yard that hasn't been cleared of debris. "Dad has gone back to work, and Mom is busy with four kids," he said. He is working with other local pastors to organize a volunteer work day to help that family and others.

Kleinert and other clergy are involved the Peninsula Disaster Recovery Task Force, a consortium of faith-based, civic and business groups that are planning, together, how best to address unmet needs.

Carolyn Kincaid, chair of the group's volunteer committee, said her region needs volunteers, both skilled and unskilled. "There's so much more do to," she said. "What can we do to make this happen quicker?"

Many families are looking at a financial pinch as the holidays approach, Kincaid and Kleinert agreed. "A lot of people assumed they'd get grants from FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] but are getting loans," said Kleinert.

As of Nov. 18, some 89,449 people have called FEMA to apply to for disaster assistance statewide. FEMA has disbursed more than $29 million in housing assistance, and more $14 million in other needs assistance statewide. More than $40 million has been disbursed in Small Business Administration loans.

Area food banks are seeing more families in need of basic provisions. Hampton Ecumenical Lodging and Provisions (HELP), a ministry comprising more than 60 Hampton area churches, arranges food and lodging for homeless people in sanctuaries.

The First Presbyterian Church collected a special offering for HELP, and the church's youth group organized a food drive, said the Rev. Don McLean, associate pastor at the church. "We are volunteering throughout the community, too," he added.

The Buckroe Baptist Church has seen attendance double at its monthly food distribution.

The Emmanuel Lutheran Church held a food drive as well.

Steve Terveer, president of the Foodbank of the Virginia Peninsula, an umbrella food bank affiliated with America's Second Harvest, said he was concerned about people who were already living on the edge financially before Isabel hit.

"There are people for whom life was a disaster before the hurricane ever came," he said. "And the holidays are coming up.

"I worry about the hourly worker who didn't work because of the storm, who lost a couple paychecks. That family is in danger of not having enough to eat. There are people who lost all their refrigerator and freezer items," he added.

Groups involved with Peninsula Disaster Recovery Task Force have collectively vowed that, next time, they'll be more ready. "We will never be in a position where we're not ready again," said Kincaid.

Even regional church offices are taking steps to be able to better support local churches during the next disaster. At the Peninsula Baptist Association, the offices closed for more than a week, said Donna Williams, office manager.

For some people in the Hampton Roads area, power was out for more than a month.

Williams and others managed to keep operations up from their homes using cell phones, she said. "No one had ever experienced a power outage for this long. I didn't even have cell phone service for three days. We really need to purchase a generator."

Lack of communication between government agencies also affected how churches could respond, added Teddie Ryan, who coordinated food preparation at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church after the hurricane. "We had emergency services people tell us to go ahead and take food out to elderly people or people with no transportation," she recalled. "We got ready to do that but then the health department told us we couldn't."

Looking back, there are ways to be better prepared, and, even if recovery takes a long time, it will happen, said Humphreys and other residents. "Sometimes you got to bend like those pines did. Faith plays a big role in people's coping skills."

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