OH relief groups step up

Two weeks of powerful storms heavily damaged two southeast Ohio counties.

BY HEATHER MOYER | CORNING, Ohio | May 27, 2004

Two weeks of powerful storms heavily damaged two southeast Ohio counties. Flash flooding destroyed 18 homes in Athens County and another nine in Perry County. A total of 78 homes in both counties suffered major damages, with another 200 suffering minor damages.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) damage assessment officials will be in the counties today and tomorrow surveying the damages. In Perry County, the communities of Corning and Hemlock were hardest hit. In Athens County, it was Glouster, Trimble, and Chauncey.

Southeast Ohio is home to some of the poorest counties in the state, and local disaster responders are hoping a presidential declaration comes through for the residents.

"Not many people are insured at all - especially this time, since the floods mostly came through areas that do not routinely flood," said Mary Woodward, disaster response coordinator for Lutheran Social Services (LSS) in Ohio.

"There will be definite long-term recovery issues if we don't get a FEMA declaration."

Perry County Emergency Management Director Rita Spicer agreed. "I would say we are about as Appalachian as you can get - it's a pretty poor area," she said. "We got a declaration from the governor, now we're just hoping for the federal."

Faith-based disaster response groups aren't wasting any time getting Athens and Perry County residents the help they need. LSS is coordinating donations. Woodward, serving in her capacity as coordinator for Lutheran Disaster Response in Ohio, is helping handle the casework.

The United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries donated money and health kits. The Church of Christ brought in two truckloads of food from their headquarters in Tennessee. The Southern Baptists brought in "mud-out teams" and childcare assistance. Catholic Charities also donated relief money. Other very active groups are Adventist Disaster Relief and the United Methodists, said Woodward.

And beyond the incoming faith-based response Woodward said the region was also well-prepared from the inside.

"We already had an interfaith set up down here called the Southeast Ohio Disaster Recovery Network," she said. "It's been around since the flooding in 1998, but the flooding back in January of this year really re-activated it.

"Ohio also has a very active state VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster), and so we started recruiting help as soon as the flooding began last week. We had many resources ready as soon as the calls for help started coming in."

Southeast Ohio counties are no strangers to flooding. Woodward said she describes the region to outsiders with a helpful comparison. "The Ohio River valley and floods are like Oklahoma and tornado alley - only we get less press," she laughed.

"You have to keep some sense of humor about this."

Add that history of floods to the community spirit, and the response is no surprise. "The Appalachian area works well together in times of needs, it's a neighborly area," she said. "The response has been tremendous at this point."

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