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Ohio treads long recovery road

"They are my angels on earth."

BY HEATHER MOYER | MARIETTA, Ohio | January 31, 2005

"I didn't have any water or electricity in here, and I tell you, when I called SEODRN, it wasn't an hour before they showed up to help."

—Jo Ann Atkins

"They are my angels on earth. They helped me when no one else would."

As she talks, Jo Ann Atkins beams at Larry Burch and Hugh McConkey. Her trailer home has a new floor, and, outside, volunteer Ray Weible reattaches underpinning.

Burch is a case manager for the Southeast Ohio Disaster Relief Network (SEODRN), and McConkey is treasurer of Marietta's First Baptist Church flood relief committee. The two organizations have been working together since November to help families affected by severe flooding last September and additional flooding last month.

"Our focus is now shifting to focus on long-term needs," said Burch. "The Baptist church did a fantastic job of addressing immediate needs, so now we're putting together local committees to address anyone who's fallen through the cracks."

Atkins is one of many the groups have helped. Her mobile home sits only about 300 feet from the river. "That river's come up three times in the two years I've lived here, and that's enough for me," she said, adding that SEODRN is now helping relocate her home to Reno, a town up the road.

In September, when drenching rains from several hurricanes flooded the region, water rose into her living space. "My floors looked like a roller coaster," she explained. "And my bathroom floor completely fell through." Volunteers brought in by SEODRN and First Baptist Church replaced the waterlogged floor.

Several weeks ago, the river rose again. This time, the landlord of the trailer park helped move the homes out of harm's way. But when Atkins' home was moved back after the water receded, electricity and water were not hooked up. The home was also set in lower than it was before, preventing the underpinning from being reattached without alteration. Cold air seeping under the trailer froze the pipes several times.

So Atkins called her 'angels' again. "I didn't have any water or electricity in here, and I tell you, when I called SEODRN, it wasn't an hour before they showed up to help."

Weible, a construction contractor and SEODRN volunteer, hooked up the water and electricity and then got to work on the underpinning.

Cooperation has been amazing so far in the Marietta region, agreed both Burch and McConkey. Initially, First Baptist Church had put together a flood relief committee to help anyone who came forward with needs. "We bought space heaters and appliances for families, and we also helped with rent, moving costs and even carpet," explained McConkey.

He said the church started the committee in October, then learned about SEODRN in November. The groups are now working closely. "We're partnering with them on repairs. We love them because they do case management and bring in skilled volunteers."

Now, almost every church in Marietta is joining the cause. "Every denomination is pulling together," said Burch. "There's a great level of cooperation."

The cooperation and community spirit in the historic city have been evident all along, added McConkey. Over at Mary Kelly's home, neighbors gathered to help during both the September and January floods. Local college students gathered at the elderly woman's back door as the water rose, filling sandbags that would protect her home from flooding.

Water still flooded her basement. On the basement wall are two spray-painted lines: one marking the water height in September, the other for January. September's mark is almost six feet high, and January's is just below that.

"I lost my furnace and water heater, and had water all through the duct system," said Kelly. Despite having no heat, Kelly stayed in the home, fearful of looters. On Thursday, Kelly returned home from a stay in the hospital, where she says doctors think she ended up because of her time spent in the cold home.

SEODRN and the First Baptist Church helped Kelly get new appliances. They also helped replace the mold-ridden carpet on her first floor. She said she is grateful to the organizations for their assistance, and to her whole community.

As time passes in Marietta and Washington County, SEODRN is finding more needs. Other hard-hit towns in the county include Belpre, Maxburg and Elba. "Housing is a big issue in this area, there's just not much available," Burch noted, adding some families are staying in flood-damaged homes because nothing else is available.

"We've already identified some families with some big needs. And then once it gets warmer, we'll need more volunteers and building supplies to get these homes repaired."

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