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Flooded PA muds out

Jeff Varone stood outside his home last week wondering where he and his daughter will live next.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BEAVER FALLS, Pa. | October 11, 2004

"During the flooding, at one point the creek was as wide as the Ohio River."

—Brad McKoy

Jeff Varone stood outside his home last week wondering where he and his daughter will live next. Heavy rains caused by Hurricane Ivan flooded the creek behind his home, sending water through the whole first floor.

"The house may be condemned this week," said Varone, leaning against his mailbox out front. "The water inside was five or six feet high."

Brad McKoy and the Rev. John Smith stood next to Varone surveying the damage. Smith, pastor of Concord United Methodist Church (CUMC) in Beaver Falls, flipped through the papers on his clipboard and passed some information on to Varone.

"We have a guy with an apartment he's willing to rent out below price to help out the flood victims," Smith explained. With that, phone numbers were exchanged and a connection was made.

Smith and CUMC are a part of the Northeast Beaver County Flood Assistance Team (NBCFAT), a coalition of area churches and social service agencies helping flood-affected families. So are McKoy and his social service agency Servant Heart. While Varone copied down a phone number, McKoy took a moment to describe just how bad the flooding was around Varone's neighborhood.

"During the flooding, at one point the creek was as wide as the Ohio River."

Varone's entire street was ravaged by the normally shallow and calm Connoquenessing Creek, as several feet of water rushed through over 50 homes in the neighborhood. Many residents are worried their homes will be condemned as well.

Flood damage is spread across western Pennsylvania's rural Beaver County. Smith said. NBCFAT is working very hard to find all the various pockets of damage, but that has been difficult. They continue to go door-to-door, but anxiously await the day they can work with the American Red Cross to get the names of those who signed up for assistance through them. That will take some time, said Smith.

In the meantime, Smith and McKoy are matching up needs with resources as best they can. Supporters have been very generous thus far, according to Smith. One furniture store donated a truckload of furniture that was distributed Friday afternoon. Community members have been preparing meals for affected families since the mid-September flood. Some local landlords are also offering their properties below normal prices to the families with nowhere to live.

NBCFAT is counting its local volunteers as a valuable resource during the recovery. The same day Smith and McKoy checked in on Varone, they stopped at a nearby trailer park to visit Renee Gaston. Outside Gaston's trailer, two feet stuck out from beneath the skirting. John Zugonics was busy removing wet insulation and destroyed ducts.

During Ivan's wrath, Gaston's trailer saw water up to the top of its skirting. She originally thought that because the water had not entered the trailer itself, she had escaped any damage. Unfortunately, the insulation under the trailer soaked up the water like a sponge, warping some of the trailer's flooring and destroying the heating ducts underneath as well.

After helping Gaston check her kitchen flooring for possible water damage, Smith and McKoy headed outside to chat with Zugonics. The emergency management coordinator for the town of Fallston, Zugonics said he just wanted to help where it was needed.

"I took three days of vacation to do this," he said with a smile after crawling out from under the trailer. And he would do it again, he added as the three examined the piles of soggy insulation and ducts in the back of his truck. Smith said that dedicated volunteers like Zugonics are helping residents save money on labor.

The hard work and uncertainty about the future are taking their toll on the residents, though. Some are still able to stay positive, noted McKoy, but the rebuilding process will take months and not always be an easy road.

"People are becoming exhausted. On our assistance application, we asked people to describe the damage in their homes. We got words like 'devastating' and 'heart-breaking.'"

Smith told a story about his helping one family remove flood-damaged property from their home. "We had to burn all their belongings, so we were piling things up in their front yard, going from room-to-room. It was difficult, but when we got to his kids' toys and burnt those, everyone started crying. That kind of made it set in. Yet the father said, 'At least we're all okay.'"

"It's true," McKoy added. "We've been teaching and seeing a lot of perspective this month."

The big tasks right now for NBCFAT include helping families replace furnaces, coordinating resources and needs, and housing families who are unable to stay in flood-damaged homes. Smith and McKoy are watching each other and the rest of the flood assistance team for signs of burnout, as well.

"It is a bit overwhelming, but we're pacing ourselves," explained Smith.

And overall, the team is not losing its focus. "This is a huge opportunity to love people here and make a difference," said McKoy.

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