UT forms recovery group

“Houses virtually exploded into the river,” recalled the Rev. Luther Anderson, describing floods that struck southern Utah two months ago.

BY SUSAN KIM | ST. GEORGE, UTAH | March 18, 2005

“Houses virtually exploded into the river,” recalled the Rev. Luther Anderson, describing floods that struck southern Utah two months ago.

“The river ripped the guts of the sides of the riverbank,” he said.

Like Anderson, residents from Washington County communities - St. George, Santa Clara, Gunlock - vividly recall the violence of the January flooding.

A newly formed long-term recovery committee has been organized to help flood-stricken residents cope with damage to their homes and lingering trauma, said Anderson, pastor of New Promise Lutheran Church in St. George.

“A lady who lived here 30 years said she has seen five floods but she said she’s never seen one like this,” said Anderson.

At least 27 homes were destroyed in St. George alone, and dozens of others were destroyed or severely damaged throughout the county. Heavy snow pack followed by rain in the upper elevations sent water plummeting down the mountainsides and into the Santa Clara and Virgin rivers. In the region where the two rivers converge, water hit with tremendous force.

The new long-term recovery committee - the Dixie Disaster Recovery Coalition - comprises more than 15 faith-based and community groups. Its mission is to help flood-affected people make a plan for their recovery, identify and help resolve emergency and long-term disaster-related needs, and strengthen area-wide coordination in disasters and emergencies.

The Dixie coalition gets its name from a bit of Utah’s history, explained Anderson. “When the Mormons settled here, they were determined to become a self-sufficient state,” he said. “They started growing cotton, and Utah became known as the Dixie of the southwest.”

Ultimately the cotton growing stopped - but the name stuck, acknowledged residents.

The Dixie coalition is helping many people with little experience with disaster recovery simply cope, said Sharon Dimsdale at the Westside Baptist Church in St. George. “This flood was really bad for this small community,” she said.

Loss of household possessions and appliances has hit many people hard, agreed Dimsdale and Anderson - and few people had flood insurance.

The coalition includes: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Family Services, Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist Church, New Promise Lutheran Church, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, First Southern Baptist Church, Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, Grace Episcopal Church, Cornerstone Community Fellowship, New Life Christian Center, Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Southwest Mental Health Center, Citizen Corps, United Way, Dixie Care and Share, and Volunteer Center of Washington County. Other churches and organizations have agreed to join.

National faith-based disaster response groups - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and others - are offering funds and technical assistance to the fledging committee. UMCOR provided case management training at the Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist Church.

The Dixie coalition is coordinating its work with groups such as the Virgin River/Santa Clara River Flood Relief Inc., the Department of Workforce Services, and others.

Tami Sevier, chairperson of the Dixie coalition, reported that participating organizations were combining their resources well. “The initial goal will be to help individuals with immediate needs related to the recent disaster in our community,” she said in a public statement. “At the same time, we will put our plan in action to address long-term needs. By combining the resources and expertise of all these organizations, we can offer a variety of services and assistance not available from any single agency or organization. As a coalition, we will collaborate efforts to try and meet the needs of those that have been affected by the flood.”

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