Neighbors offer care in PA

Pennsylvania is recovering from floods that damaged homes two months ago.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BEAVER FALLS, Penn. | July 30, 2004

West-central Pennsylvania is still recovering from floods that damaged hundreds of homes more than two months ago.

Heavy rains flooded parts of Beaver County, with the towns of Beaver Falls, Enon Valley, Big Beaver, and also Darlington Township, being hardest hit. Southern Lawrence County was also severely damaged.

Over 30 homes suffered major damages in Beaver County, according to county emergency manager Wes Hill, and several were destroyed. Hill said the flooding was like nothing he'd ever seen before, with some damaged areas being in the 500-year flood plain - "If you can believe that," he laughed.

"I'm talking the whole lower end of Beaver Falls was under three to four feet of water," he said. "People had never seen water that high before."

Just north, Lawrence County saw between 40 and 60 homes with damage, according to county emergency manager Sharyn Critchlow. "We've never had flooding to this extent before," she said.

A streak of rural independence is apparent in many of the affected families, with some already deciding to repair their homes rather than wait around for financial assistance. Both Beaver and Lawrence County qualified for SBA loans. Hill and Critchlow said they were both surprised with how many residents had insurance, but there are still those who either didn't qualify or chose not to apply for the SBA loans, saying they didn't want to deal with a loan.

Meanwhile Pastor Ricky Nelson can see the positive aspects of living in a rural area.

"People take care of each other," said Nelson, pastor of the New Virginia

United Methodist Church in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. "That's one nice thing about rural areas, people really help each other out."

Thatís evident in these communities. Up in Hermitage, Nelson said he got a call from the local chapter of the American Red Cross, saying that several families that still needed help. Nelson is the disaster response coordinator for the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

He said they provided flood relief supplies, including flood buckets, during the early stages of the flood relief. Now two months later, the focus in on the long-term process of home repairs.

"We're kind of in the waiting process right now, trying to get home repair costs in line and looking at what needs to be done," explained Nelson. He added that his church has also helped provide transportation for some flood families in the meantime.

Nelson said he's doing his best to assist those who didn't even qualify for the loans. "We've had a few issues with folks not owning their trailers, and some who don't want to move," he said. "We hope to be able to provide financial aid for the families."

And even though the rural areas include supportive neighbors, the distance makes it a bit more challenging for local churches to step in. "Many churches around there are very small, and then some pastors have more than one church," explained Nelson. "I think some of the closest churches to the very hard hit areas are about 20 minutes away."

With that, Nelson added that some of his relief work also includes getting those local churches working together to be available for the flood families. He's also looking into forming a local chapter of VOAD: Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, but it's a slow process.

According to Nelson, the flood recovery has several major needs at this point,. First: monetary assistance. "We could always use money, as we don't have a large supply here," he said.

Also, since many residents are doing repairs themselves, Nelson said he hopes to provide some dumpsters for them, as well as insulation help. Many of the once water-logged trailers now need new insulation.

And as residents clean their homes, the skies keep getting dark overhead. Repeated rainstorms have drenched the area since late May, leaving Hill to wonder when the floods will come again.

"It wouldn't surprise me if this all happened again," he said. "We've been hit pretty hard this year."

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