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'People still need help'

When Hurricane Isabel hit the eastern seaboard last September, it left a trail of destruction that is still being cleaned up now.

BY HEATHER MOYER | POQUOSON, Va. | April 13, 2004

"It's amazing what we've been able to do for homeowners, but resources are running out."

—Terry Wood

When Hurricane Isabel hit the eastern seaboard last September, it left a trail of destruction that is still being cleaned up now. Isabel devastated both Poquoson and Gloucester, Virginia, cities just north of Norfolk.

The major task now is repairing and rebuilding damaged homes in the areas. In Poquoson alone, over 200 people are living in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers. "Lots of homes had to be demolished," said Carolyn Kincaid, committee chair of the Poquoson Relief Task Force. "Lots of people still need help down here."

Kincaid said many people don't know that hurricane relief is ongoing. "It's been hard to get media attention," she said. "Folks need to understand that there are still lots of unmet needs."

That doesn't mean that the local communities haven't helped each other out in the past six months. "We have a combination of faith-based and non-faith-based organizations working together, which is great," said Kincaid.

The community has helped with everything from debris removal to donating food. Kincaid said she also has a 30-member volunteer team coming in from Connecticut later this month to help with home repairs. "We've also had another five teams inquire about helping out throughout the summer," she said.

The cities are also surveying residents to see what resources they have and what resources are needed.

For the disaster recovery director of the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, the most needed resource is obvious. "We need money," said Terry Wood. "It's amazing what we've been able to do for homeowners so far, but resources are running out."

Since the storm hit six months ago, Wood said her conference has spent over $71,000 to provide materials for home repairs in Gloucester alone. They've also seen over 1,300 volunteers put in over 20,000 hours of labor.

Wood said the volunteers come from many unique backgrounds, and they've all done tremendous work for the affected families. One volunteer team was a group of eight Amish men from upstate New York. "They did an amazing amount of work in the few days they were here," she said. "It was a good experience for them and those they helped to experience new cultures."

Many of the volunteer groups have not only donated their time, but also their money. "Some volunteers would see the damage and either leave money behind when they left or bring back what was needed the next time they came," said Wood. She added that she's continuously surprised by the generosity of the volunteers and the local community.

United Methodist churches statewide showed their generosity during the Christmas season. Wood said the conference's Christmas assistance appeal made it possible for 100 families in the Rappahannock District to receive food, gift certificates and gifts.

Besides monetary donations, other relief groups need volunteers. "We've had one to two groups of volunteers each week since January - but the number of volunteer groups has slowed up recently," said Ted Houser, project logistics coordinator of Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS). "I think many relief groups are experiencing a slowdown in volunteer numbers during April and May."

Houser said the number of volunteers picks back up during the summer months, but they don't want their recovery work to slow down in the meantime. "We've been recruiting more volunteers and putting out the volunteer plea to our churches," he said.

MDS home repair volunteers are currently working on 14 homes in the Poquoson area, a project that's turned into more work than they originally thought it would be. "We started what we thought would be a bunch of minor home repairs," said Houser. "Yet once we started tearing out drywall, more damage was discovered. Most of the homes are now major repair projects."

This heavier workload has not deterred MDS or the community. Houser said the people of Poquoson have supported them the whole time, with some even stopping MDS volunteers on the street to thank them. He also agreed with Kincaid about the residents playing an active role in their recovery.

"This community is determined," said Houser. "They're not sitting around waiting for someone else to do the work for them - they're working right alongside us."

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