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FL grows tarp-weary

Florida has one eye on the 50,000 blue tarps covering roofs across the state, and the other eye on a tropical disturbance south of Cuba that’s getting more organized by the hour.

BY SUSAN KIM | PENSACOLA, Fla. | June 13, 2005

"We need to entice some of those volunteers to come back."

—Jody Hill

Florida has one eye on the 50,000 blue tarps covering roofs across the state, and the other eye on a tropical disturbance south of Cuba that’s getting more organized by the hour.

On Monday, many people were still breathing a sigh of relief after Tropical Storm Arlene made landfall near Pensacola, Fla., bringing wind gusts and 6-7 inches of rain but no significant flooding or widespread damage. Some parts of the state saw more rainfall during a wet April than from this storm.

Regardless of Arlene’s effects, there are both highly visible and invisible signs that recovery from last hurricane season is nowhere near complete. Blue tarps - the signature of roofs that still need repairs - cover thousands of homes in the Florida Panhandle. And tarps also still dot the path of Hurricane Charley, which hit Aug. 13 north of Fort Myers and tracked through Port Charlotte, Wauchula, Kissimmee and Orlando.

On Monday, response officials said they didn’t know how many blue tarps failed to hold when Tropical Storm Arlene blew through. But they emphasized a lot of homes needed to have their tarps replaced even before that storm hit. Blue tarps simply aren’t designed to serve as roofs for nine months. “You don’t need an Arlene or a tropical storm to rip off a tarp,” said one responder. “Your average 4:30 in the afternoon thunderstorm can do it.”

Leaders from Florida’s Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) coalition reported on Monday that they are receiving reports of leaky roofs and caved-in ceilings - and expect more to come in. And, they said, this will aggravate another already-existing issue: harmful mold that grows in damp houses.

Jody Hill, head of Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster (FIND), and other VOAD representatives urged people to contact outdoor advertising companies to ask them to donate billboard “skins.” The tough weather-proof sign-fronts can serve as better roof coverings than blue tarps. The Florida VOAD was considering contacting associations of outdoor advertisers to discuss creating a partnership for sign donations.

Volunteers have been an integral part of Florida long-term recovery from last year’s hurricane season, said Hill, who said some 5,000 volunteers have lent a hand. But with new storms on the horizon, Hill and others urged people not to forget long-term recovery that will 2-5 years. “We need to entice some of those volunteers to come back,” she said.

Dozens of long-term recovery groups have been set up across the state, many with guidance and seed money from Church World Service (CWS). In addition to supporting these local groups, CWS has worked with FIND and with Central Campesino, the lead agency working with farm workers and their families. Centro Campesino has helped CWS identify the unique needs of many Spanish-speaking communities in Florida.

Less visible than blue tarps but still a serious hurricane aftermath: emotional reactions. CWS Interfaith Trauma Response Training has been conducting workshops for clergy and caregivers in Florida. The training is designed to reinforce pastoral skills for dealing with survivors, congregations, and communities in catastrophic events and awareness of self-care to avoid burn out and fatigue over the long haul.

Children are especially vulnerable to emotional stress in the wake of storms, and this summer more than 3,000 children in Florida, Alabama and Puerto Rico will enroll in Camp Noah, a week-long, therapeutic, faith-based day camp founded by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and offered in partnership with Lutheran Disaster Response.

Christian education directors, pastors and community leaders in Florida and other locations will offer Camp Noah programs free of charge.

Camp Noah was founded following the 1997 flooding in the Upper Midwest, during which thousands of people were displaced. Leaders from Lutheran Disaster Response and its partner agency, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, recognized that many emotional needs of children were not being addressed. Many daycare centers and summer recreation programs were unable to operate.

This year in Florida, people who work with children said the camp is badly needed, and that the new hurricane season will exacerbate existing stress on kids.

Dr. William Gray, a Colorado State University (CSU) meteorologist, has predicted 15 named storms, with four of them being intense hurricanes.

The 2004 hurricane season resulted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA's) largest mobilization of emergency response and disaster recovery resources in the agency’s history.

FEMA responded to a record-setting 27 total major declared disasters for hurricane-related damage in 15 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands - an area of more than 600,000 square miles. Florida was hit by four hurricanes and Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia were also declared disasters due to damages from the storms.

FEMA’s response to last year’s hurricanes resulted in the activation of the National Emergency Operations Center and other operations centers for more than 55 days - their longest continuous activation ever.

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