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MD town gives thanks

Fourteen months after Hurricane Isabel wrecked their home, Carolyn and Arnold Noland think it's time to give thanks.

BY SUSAN KIM | CAMBRIDGE, Md. | November 24, 2004

"We had insurance and we had flood insurance - but we didn't have enough insurance."

—Carolyn Noland

Fourteen months after Hurricane Isabel wrecked their home, Carolyn and Arnold Noland think it's time to give thanks.

They're still living in a motor home on Hoopers Island, one of the oldest settled areas in the U.S., located off Maryland's Eastern Shore. The fragile region was devastated by Isabel's 125-mph winds.

Married 50 years last month, they're thankful because, Arnold said - smiling at his wife - "well, that's a pretty small space and we've learned some new things about each other. Imagine, after 50 years, we've learned some new things about each other."

Isabel's winds knocked their house six inches off its foundation. "They're just getting around to demolishing it," said Carolyn.

The Nolands had hoped to be in a new manufactured home on their same lot by Christmas, but Carolyn said, matter-of-factly, "I just don't think that's going to happen."

Arnold said, at this point, he's thankful no matter what. "It all comes in time,"' he said, and his wife agreed: "We've waited this long," she said. "What's a couple more months?"

Looking back over the past year, the Nolands said they're thankful for the help that has come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and from Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). "We had insurance and we had flood insurance - but we didn't have enough insurance," said Carolyn.

They are grateful for the volunteer teams that visited their community. "We had 22 young people from Pennsylvania pick up everything out of our house and move it to safety," remembered Carolyn. "We'd never have made it without them."

But the biggest thanks from the Nolands went to their pastor, the Rev. Joe Kelly, who serves at the Hoopers Memorial United Methodist Church. At his very first pastoral appointment for just two months before the storm hit, Kelly's response won the hearts of his church members and the wider community alike.

"One of the oldest people on the island said that was the first time he saw a pastor go around the island in a rowboat," recalled Arnold. "Because of him, we've seen people who haven't talked in 20 years hug each other and say, 'what can I do to help?' "

Arnold said he believes, "Rev. Kelly was put in the right place at the right time."

Kelly - who will watch his devastated church building on the island be re-dedicated Dec. 5 - modestly said a lot of his help came from the outside.

"We had such an outpouring," he said.

And while the physical recovery still has some loose ends, he has watched a rebuilding of spirit on Hoopers Island, he said. "The church has grown so much in its faith. The spiritual climate has changed."

He said, especially during Thanksgiving week, he doesn't choose to look at what's not done at this point. "There are still people trying to get their lives back together, but we have a lot to be thankful for," he said.

On Maryland's Eastern Shore, recovery has come a long way, agreed James Michael, chairperson of the Eastern Shore Interfaith Recovery Team. Michael said he remembered visiting with Kelly just after the hurricane. "I remember Joe telling me what the Lord had put on his heart: to help the people."

After the adrenalin wore off from the initial emergency response, the interfaith team had some challenging times, remembered Michael. "That December, and January, and early February, we had FEMA trailers that had frozen pipes," he said.

But then the volunteer teams started coming, he said. "And they kept coming. Everything was just in time. Federal, state, local, nonprofit and church agencies came together. It was ecumenical, interagency, intergovernmental. At one time we had 17 rebuilding projects going at once."

The interfaith recovery group rebuilt or repaired more than 50 homes, and there are still five homes being worked on, he said. "We'll try to do as much as we can before we close up in the next six to eight weeks."

"It's been a life-changing experience," summed up Michael. "That's exactly what it is."

The Rev. Dr. J.T. Seymour, director of connectional ministries for the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church, said he is thankful for the lessons he has learned during the response, and grateful he might be able to pass those on to others some day. "I would like people to be aware that, after the initial first few months following a disaster, there is still so much to do," he said. "It is a much longer-term process that a casual observer would realize."

Seymour - and many others - said they noticed news about Isabel recovery left the headlines fairly quickly. "When the disaster first occurs, there is a lot of news and public sentiment in favor of contributing."

That tends to wither rather quickly, he said, and recovery on Maryland Eastern Shore faded from the limelight as news of the California wildfires and news of the Iraq war captured the headlines.

The interfaith group received support from national faith-based disaster response groups. Tom Hazelwood, executive secretary of U.S. disaster response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, commended the local leaders for their recovery efforts.

"I remember coming those first few days. We took it one step at a time," he said. "Our God is a God of hope - one who is able to take setbacks and turn them into comebacks."

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