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Needs linger in MD

Nine months after Hurricane Isabel devastated the east coast, officials and nonprofits in Anne Arundel County, Md., are still working to meet survivors' needs.


"Addressing all the needs is not an easy task."

—Jim Weed

Nine months after Hurricane Isabel devastated the east coast, officials and nonprofits in Anne Arundel County, Md., are still working to meet survivors' needs.

Some 34 families in the eastern Maryland county are still living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), waiting for repairs on their homes to be completed. In some cases, repairs to some residents' homes haven't even started.

Local relief groups are doing all they can to help people recover and rebuild.

Isabel Outreach, a counseling and mental health referral agency formed in the wake of the hurricane, partnered with Annapolis' Calvary United Methodist Church (CUMC) to also offer debris cleanup and small home repairs to those affected.

Kathy Hurt, project director of Isabel Outreach, said her organization has a grant to stay in existence for only one year, so Hurt and others are doing what they can to help create more permanent local assistance. During Isabel Outreach's work counseling survivors, Hurt explained that they came across many people who needed serious assistance with home repairs. So they helped form the "Neighbor to Neighbor" program with CUMC. Since then, they've passed on 30 such cases to the volunteers.

Al Moored of CUMC offered to help lead volunteers and get the Neighbor to Neighbor program moving. "When I heard about the plight of the victims, I thought I could help," he said. "Of the 30 cases we received, we've helped 25 of them and had several volunteer teams go do some repairs." They also removed storm debris from residents' yards.

And there's plenty more work to do, Moored said he's just waiting on the volunteers. "We hope to get more volunteers down here, but that's big work," he said. "We could really use a coordinator to help with that task."

Moored said some volunteer help is on the way through cooperation with the regional United Methodist Disaster Relief and the United Methodist's Volunteers in Mission. He added that he also hopes to have people sign up on a volunteer list so they're available in future disasters.

The idea of forming a more permanent disaster response structure is being acted on in Anne Arundel County. "We realized quickly after Isabel that our biggest shortcoming was not having a plan for any type of long-term recovery," said Jim Weed, director of emergency management for Anne Arundel County. He said the number of agencies and groups responding right after Isabel was hard to keep track of, especially what exactly each organization was offering to survivors.

"So right now we're putting together an emergency support function. We're forming a committee that will put together a human and direct services plan with the county, volunteer and faith-based groups," said Weed. "Addressing all the needs is not an easy task. It's important to know who can do what and who can't do what."

Another part of the permanent disaster plan involves the Volunteer Center of Anne Arundel County taking care of Moored's wish to keep an active list of volunteers. The project involves deploying a Volunteer Mobilization Center to coordinate volunteers in the event of an emergency.

"This will help focus volunteers and the work which helps because this needs to work quickly when an emergency happens," said Dennis Hoyce, assistant to the human services officer of Anne Arundel County. Hoyce said funds have been awarded to the county to set up a volunteer database for this project.

Despite Anne Arundel County not having an official disaster plan when Isabel hit, officials say they were still able to do significant good work. Weed and Hoyce agreed that many county workers went above and beyond their job descriptions and responsibilities to assist flood-affected families. But much help is still required.

"It's frustrating determining what people need - and then people are frustrated now because many haven't gotten what they needed," said John Kurpjuweit, special assistant to the Anne Arundel County Executive. "This is now an economic recovery, which makes it hard for the government who can't just write a check for exactly what people need."

Hurricane Isabel destroyed more than 120 homes in the county and affected more than 2,400 homes total. Also impacted in the community was the large marine industry. Anne Arundel County has more than 500 miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay, and many small marinas and crabbers experienced an economic impact when piers, boats and crab cleaning plants were destroyed or severely damaged.

One aspect the county and local relief agencies have been challenged with is the lack of someone to be in charge of casework. But some good news came recently when the Maryland Governor's office announced that it would help set up an Anne Arundel County office of the Maryland Interfaith Recovery Team (MIRT). MIRT and member organization United Methodist Disaster Response have been handling Isabel case management around Baltimore County.

Many other faith-based disaster response agencies have also offered their services during the home repair and rebuild process, including Mennonite Disaster Service and Church of the Brethren Disaster Response. "We're trying to pull in all kind of folks who will help," said Hoyce.

The recovery process will be long, but those involved are staying positive. "For future disasters, we want to be able to respond immediately and in the long-term," said Weed. "We're taking on a major task here, but we're all committed to this. We know another disaster will happen sometime, that's a guarantee."

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