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'Starting from scratch'

Debris is strewn across the mud and faded grass of Houston's town park.

BY HEATHER MOYER | HOUSTON, Penn. | December 20, 2004

"Many went way too fast with the recovery."

—Rev. Clarejean E. Haury

Debris is strewn across the mud and faded grass of Houston's town park, reminders of disastrous fall flooding.

Driving through the small southwestern Pennsylvania town, the Rev. Clarejean E. Haury pointed out damaged houses near the park. "That one was condemned...so was that one," she said, looking out along a little street near one of the town's two creeks.

Many families are still recovering from the devastation Hurricane Ivan's remnants brought in September. Behind some of the homes are piles of furniture or appliances. Several other homes are surrounded by yellow caution tape. Others have visible water lines.

"At least five homes in Houston were destroyed, and we're handling another 65 families in our caseload," explained Haury.

Haury is the pastor of Houston's First United Presbyterian Church, one of the member churches of the Inter-Faith Long-Term Recovery Team (IFLTRT). IFLTRT covers north-central Washington County. "Our intent is to do major long-term support for the families whose resources didn't cover all their flood recovery," explained Haury.

Many of the families the recovery team is helping had little time to secure their homes when the floodwaters rose. The two creeks in Houston rose so quickly that the families grabbed what they could, jumped in their cars, and fled to safety. Haury's church sheltered 29 people the night the water rose.

Now, three months later, some families still can't go home. Others made quick repairs, and responders are now worried about mold.

"Many went way too fast with the recovery," Haury said. "Some only scrubbed and painted but did not replace the drywall. We could see an increase in casework as time goes by."

Yet much of the recovery in IFLTRT's current casework has entered the rebuild stage, she added. "We're at the place where many of the homes we've helped are dry and ready for drywall and volunteers."

The interfaith group has already seen volunteer teams from area United Methodist churches and Mennonite Disaster Service. Considering IFLTRT started from scratch, Haury noted that she is happy with progress so far. "We're trying to organize what we have, and so we've been pretty much inventing the organization as we go along."

IFLTRT has also been helping affected families buy furnaces, freezers, washers, dryers and furniture.

The newest task for IFLTRT is handling a grant from the United Way to work with the Washington County Habitat for Humanity. While still in the preliminary planning stages, the two organizations hope to help several flood families build new homes.

In the Houston business district, life is slowly returning. Some businesses have been able to reopen, while others remain vacant. Houston's city buildings were also severely damaged. The city municipal building took in water, and the city police department headquarters are under repair while police work out of a temporary trailer.

Across the county, over 1,600 families were affected by September's flooding. Marilyn Bender, caseworker for Western Pennsylvania United Methodist Disaster Response, is helping to form more long-term recovery committees in areas not covered by IFLTRT.

Bender recently held a caseworker training for volunteers interested in helping out across the county. The next interfaith group Bender hopes to help form is one for the areas both north and west of Houston and Canonsburg - which covers a great distance.

"We're starting from scratch as well. It's difficult because I'm trying to get representatives from tiny rural towns to be on board as well," Bender said.

Haury agreed. "The damage from the storm is in small pockets around the county."

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