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Frustration grows in Ivan's wake

For Penny Dendy, sometimes all she and her agency can do for Hurricane Ivan survivors is offer a listening ear.

BY HEATHER MOYER | MOBILE, Ala. | November 2, 2004

"We still have many roofs in need of tarps."

—Eldon Zimmerman

For Penny Dendy, sometimes all she and her agency can do for Hurricane Ivan survivors is offer a listening ear.

"There is frustration," said Dendy, executive director of Volunteer Mobile in Mobile, Ala. "Many will have to wait months to get a new roof on their house. One family said the shortest waiting list they could get on to had them getting a new roof in six months."

And that is the story in southern Alabama over a month after Hurricane Ivan slammed the region with high winds and heavy rains.

For the relief process, Volunteer Mobile has taken the lead in coordinating volunteers, donated supplies, and the newly-formed long-term recovery committee. They are also staffing the state's telephone helpline. Dendy said the agency is currently handling around 3,000 cases.

Significant tasks right now still include removing downed trees and other debris, as well as securing tarps to damaged roofs. "We're fortunate that we don't get much cold weather down here, but we do get a lot of rain," she said.

A major push for Volunteer Mobile and its employees is to make sure residents fill out the assistance applications from the Small Business Administration (SBA). Dendy explained that many residents think the SBA only offers loans to small businesses and that they also do not realize that filling out the application can make them eligible for other forms of federal assistance.

"So we're going door to door to educate people, and then trying to connect them with other people who can help them fill out the applications," she added.

Volunteer Mobile's staff is small but dedicated, and with the help of many volunteers Dendy said they are able to keep up with the demands of the hurricane recovery process. "We're staying very busy," she laughed.

Volunteers from all over the country are calling in to offer their services, with the majority being from Alabama - including many from the immediate Mobile and southern Alabama area. As the recovery process shifts its focus to the long-term, home repairs and rebuilds will be the biggest need.

"Considering the fact that we'll have hundreds - if not thousands - that will need re-roofed, we need building materials and tools. We'll also focus on the unmet needs of those who still require help after (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and SBA are done."

And the needs will continue to surface for some time. Eldon Zimmerman, Alabama's disaster response coordinator for Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), said he considers housing to be one of the biggest issues the area will be facing for a long time. "Housing is definitely a factor," he explained.

"We still have many roofs in need of tarps. FEMA is bringing in trailers, but that's a slow process. In the meantime, people are staying in hotels and a few are still in shelters. Almost all the hotels in Baldwin County are still booked full."

Unemployment will be another lingering issue. "There are a lot of folks out of work, including migrants who work here during the tourist season."

Down in Gulf Shores, Ala., the Christian Service Center sees the same problems as well. An agency set up by the local ministerial alliance back in 1981, the all-volunteer staff is providing emergency aid to the hard-hit families. "We're helping families out with rent and utilities, and then food and other supplies - just whatever they need," said Linda Chapelle, president of the Christian Service Center board.

The Gulf Shores area relies heavily on tourists, explained Chapelle, so many employees in the tourism industry are out of work right now. "They're all looking for other work, but there isn't much. You can see the depression setting in."

And for families stuck without housing, the problems just multiply. "You cannot find housing down here right now, and really it's just too expensive anyway for most of these families."

To assist the areas handling recovery, Zimmerman said he's traveling all over the region helping to establish long-term recovery committees. So far, Baldwin, Mobile, and Escambia Counties are forming the committees. "But we still have a long ways to go yet, we're still trying to get more non-profits and local agencies involved. Every community is different."

Zimmerman agreed that frustration is very evident among the affected families. He said some families are still in shock and that he expects the stress to continue as more problems surface with time - and that's exactly why the long-term recovery committees need to be set up quickly. "We need to be up and running to help these folks."

For the children struggling with emotions, LDR will most likely offer its Camp Noah program at some point down the road, but Zimmerman said it is still too early to schedule exact dates and locations.

In the meantime, he is staying in touch with local pastors and hoping to help keep the needs of Alabama residents in the public eye. "There is a concern that Florida is over-shadowing all other areas. Not much is being said about Alabama when hurricanes are mentioned, but we've got well over 130,000 applications for federal aid here - and that's a big disaster for the South."

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