'The shock is about over'

Post-flood adrenalin is drying up in Kentucky, leaving many residents facing stark reality.

BY SUSAN KIM | INEZ, Ken. | July 2, 2004

"Even though I can get a loan or grant to rebuild my home, I can't rebuild on the same place."

—Rev. Leonard Marr

Post-flood adrenalin is drying up in Kentucky, leaving many residents facing stark reality.

Unmet needs - those that won't be taken care of by federal aid - will total more than $2 million, response leaders are estimating.

Seventy-four counties in the state are federally declared disaster areas, with four more being reviewed for possible declarations. Nearly 6,000 people have applied for federal assistance.

But the numbers - high as they are - still belie what people are feeling now, said the Rev. Leonard Marr, pastor at the Golden Memorial United Methodist Church in Inez, Ken., located in hard-hit Martin County. "The state of shock is about over," he explained, and what once was perceived as post-flood excitement is becoming a wearying trudge into long-term recovery.

"It's okay to spend a few nights in a cousin's house but when it gets to be 11, 12 people in a trailer," that's a different story, said Marr. "One of the biggest needs is housing for people whose homes were destroyed."

More than 250 people are displaced.

But even people who have money to reconstruct their home can't always get back their former lives and their beloved neighbors, he pointed out. "Even though I can get a loan or grant to rebuild my home, I can't rebuild on the same place. Several communities are going to be changed dramatically. Many folks who have lived there for years will have to leave."

Others face changes in the fabric of their day-to-day lives that will burden families. In one tiny village, floodwater inundated the school. "It was one of the older schools that had asbestos," said Marr. "The school board decided to close it. Now those kids will get up at 5:30 a.m. and will ride an hour to an hour-and-a-half on the bus to the next elementary school."

Marr and others estimate recovery could take years. Local voluntary organizations in many counties are still responding to immediate needs, offering food, cleanup kits, medical supplies and mattresses. But resources and energies are rapidly depleting. National and state voluntary agencies estimated they have contributed more than $2 million in assistance during the response phase of the disaster.

One focus of long-term recovery will be effectively managing volunteer help, explained Marr. "One of the most demoralizing things for a volunteer is to go into an area and sit on their hands," he said, adding that local churches, national faith-based disaster response groups and voluntary agencies were cooperating ecumenically.

For now Marr and others are juggling what they safely can. "You get a call and someone says, 'we have a dozen young people from 12 to 16 years old, and they don't have experience, can we send them?' Well, right now the answer has to be no."

Church World Service and many of its denominational partners have been helping local clergy formulate a plan for long-term recovery. While most community leaders in Kentucky instinctually want to respond in their own county, a few are beginning to recognize the value of developing better multi-county disaster recovery plans.

There have been nine federally declared disasters involving eastern Kentucky in the past five years.

Seventy-seven homes were destroyed in the latest round of flooding, 26 of them in Martin County.

"There are still pockets that need cleanup and mud out," said George Betz, community disaster educator with the Louisville chapter of the American Red Cross. "It is really hard to get our hands around this. We're talking about up and down hollers."

Rural Kentuckians also have needs that aren't always as visible as housing. Floodwaters destroyed many gardens, leaving people without their primary source of food for winter.

Increasing numbers of disaster survivors are reporting needs in undeclared counties as well.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been suggesting simple home improvements that residents of flood-prone areas can make to help lessen future damage.

"It's safer, cheaper, and ultimately much easier to limit future destruction than to repair it afterward," said Michael Bolch, head of recovery operations for FEMA. "The rebuilding phase of a disaster is the ideal time to consider ways to limit future damage."

State officials agreed. "Although many recommended measures require employing a contractor, some can be accomplished by a competent do-it-yourselfer," said Malcolm Franklin, director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management. "It is important to talk to your local permitting officials before you start any work. They can provide information on local standards and building codes."

FEMA's suggested cost-effective hazard mitigation measures include:

Relocate or elevate water heaters, furnaces, and major appliances. Water heaters, furnaces and appliances such as washers and dryers in the basement can be elevated on a masonry or pressure-treated wood base at least 12 inches above the previous high-water mark or the base flood elevation. Appliances can also be moved to the first or second floor. Some heating systems can be suspended from the basement ceiling.

Elevate or relocate electrical systems. Electrical panel boxes, circuit breakers, wall switches, and wall outlets should be relocated at least 12 inches above flood level or even moved to a higher floor. A licensed electrician familiar with local codes should be hired to do this work. An uninterrupted electrical supply will allow the homeowner to move back to the home more quickly after a flood.

Install a septic backflow valve. Flooded septic systems can force sewage back into the home. Not only is this an unpleasant experience, it also presents a health risk. Backflow valves can be installed inside or outside the structure but must conform to local building codes.

Build interior and exterior floodwalls. A watertight masonry floodwall can be constructed to enclose furnaces, utilities, and appliances on the lowest floor of the building. On the outside, a similar wall could be constructed around the perimeter of the basement opening to keep water from entering.

Anchor your fuel tank. Fuel tanks, either inside or outside the home, should be anchored to prevent them from overturning or breaking loose in a flood. Metal straps and bolts should be non-corrosive, and wood structural supports should be pressure treated.

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