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FL recovery faces challenges

Life for many in Pensacola is not getting any easier some four months after Hurricane Ivan.

BY HEATHER MOYER | PENSACOLA, Fla. | January 13, 2005

"Getting this group started and organized is a massive undertaking right now."

—Carolyn Appleyard

Life for many in Pensacola is not getting any easier some four months after Hurricane Ivan roared through.

"The houses that were originally labeled 'damaged' are shifting to 'destroyed' as time passes," said Carolyn Appleyard, co-executive director of Rebuild Northwest Florida. "Mold and mildew are taking over. Everyday, people are leaving their homes, and it's at a faster rate than people being able to move back in."

Rebuild Northwest Florida (RNWF) is a recovery organization helping Pensacola area residents affected by Hurricane Ivan. The group collaborates with the two independent long-term recovery committees (LTRCs) covering Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Supporting members include numerous local churches, businesses, and social service agencies.

Appleyard said there are still a lot of 'blue roofs' in the region - meaning numerous homes still have the blue tarps on instead of a new roof. "Those are only temporary."

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 110,000 people have registered for federal aid in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. More than 1,000 homes in the two counties were destroyed.

So RNWF and the collaborating LTRCs are doing all they can to assist the thousands of Pensacola area residents who continue to struggle months after Ivan devastated the area. With help from groups such as Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Church World Service, Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), the United Church of Christ, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), and the local chapters of the United Way, RNWF is slowly moving forward in the recovery process.

"After the storm there were a lot of smaller groups wondering what we could do. Everybody had their own job. Others of us wondered who will handle the long-term need," explained Appleyard, who also owns Appleyard Advertising Agency with her husband. That, she added, was what helped prompt many community leaders to step forward and take on the long-term recovery role.

The difference in this long-term recovery is that many of Pensacola's business leaders are taking the lead, said the Rev. Walk Jones. "Businesses often have to be dragged into the recovery process," said Jones, who pastors Pensacola's Northminster Presbyterian Church and is also a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance responder.

CWS Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Lura Cayton agreed. "The collaboration between the social agencies and the business is the unique part."

Jones noted a comment he recently heard from a federal official. "FEMA told (RNWF and the LRTCs) that Pensacola is months ahead of other parts of Florida in the recovery process."

Jones said he not only credits the many eager volunteers around the area for getting the recovery moving so quickly, but he also points to an important partnership between the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the local diocese's Catholic Charities. The two worked together in creating FEMA and SBA registration Sundays at local churches, where trained volunteers would help residents fill out their registration forms.

"It was very successful, and we hope to do a few more at some of the local Presbyterian churches as well."

But there is still a long way to go. Appleyard said experienced responders have told RNWF that the recovery will take anywhere from three to five years. "Getting this group started and organized is a massive undertaking right now," she said.

Some of the major tasks Appleyard and RNWF are currently working on include setting up housing for out-of-town volunteers, planning work days, and coordinating resources with those who are in need. CRWRC is training needs assessors, while teams from MDS are on site repairing homes.

Through it all, there has been little shortage of people stepping in to help. Members of many local congregations are organizing debris clean-up days. The local churches are helping with spiritual and emotional needs. LDR representatives were recently in town discussing the aspects of their Camp Noah program - aimed at helping children who have been through disasters - with churches and organizations that may hold it later in the year. Another local community member is using his connections in the country music industry to snag Kenny Rogers and other country stars for a benefit concert later this year.

At Trinity Presbyterian Church, Associate Pastor Karen Wamstecker acknowledged her happiness at seeing the community unite so well in response to the hurricane. "Initially the recovery was overwhelming to many folks, but they made a move and now what they've done is amazing."

She noted that many Trinity members have been active in the recovery phase thus far, and that action does not show signs of letting up any time soon. Some members made food for affected families, the youth group held numerous debris cleanup days, a team of members came to seal a leak in her own home's roof, and much more.

"Others have stepped up to replace the roof on our church's activities center, which was ripped off in the storm," she added. "It's a really good church."

Wamstecker herself is trained in crisis intervention counseling from PDA. She and Jones have been holding meetings about spiritual care for the local pastors and hope to hold a February retreat about self-assessment for the pastors. "We may even hold a similar event for Sunday School teachers and other educators," Wamstecker said.

The LTRCs in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are handling the case management during the recovery, and RNWF is using that information to also help focus their efforts. Right now, the caseworkers are busy assessing the continuing needs in the area. Like so many other recovery sites, money and volunteers are needed in Pensacola's rebuild process. Appleyard said the area is facing a significant labor and building supply shortage at this time.

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