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FL copes with long-term needs

For many people in Florida, the big news is long-term recovery - and that’s been the unglamorous headline since last year.

BY HEATHER MOYER | ARCADIA, Fla. | July 7, 2005

"We’re hoping to build 35 to 40 new homes."

—David Kimbrough

For some people in Florida, the big news is long-term recovery - and it's been the same for nearly a year.

Dozens of families in Desoto County alone still need roofs, said Coralee Nicholson, administrative assistant for Desoto County Disaster Recovery.

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, David Kimbrough leafed through one packet of names on a desk in the DCDR office, counting up 137 families in need of help almost one year after Hurricane Charley roared through.

“We can only take new cases on certain days now,” said Kimbrough, the construction supervisor for DCDR. He added that, overall, the organization is working with more than 400 cases at this point. “It’s been challenging handling all the cases.”

And more families are coming forward with needs.

DCDR is made up of local churches, government offices, businesses, and nonprofit agencies. The coalition of members is assisting Hurricane Charley-affected families with home repairs and rebuilds, as well as with paying bills and securing furniture and appliances.

Kimbrough said one of the biggest needs for DCDR is funding – not only to help repair and rebuild homes, but to also help staff the busy organization.

Volunteers have already helped build seven new homes around Arcadia – a city devastated by Hurricane Charley. “We’re hoping to build 35 to 40 new homes,” noted Kimbrough. “This is going to take a year or two.”

Hundreds of volunteers have poured in from across Florida and the U.S. over the past year. Last week, a team of 200 painted homes, built ramps, and repaired roofs. “They completed 44 homes,” said Coralee Nicholson, DCDR’s administrative assistant.

Just down the road from the Presbyterian church parking lot in Arcadia where the DCDR trailer office sits, counselors from Camp Noah were rebuilding a ramp at the home of an elderly disabled man.

Camp Noah – a week-long camp aimed at helping children who have experienced disasters – is a project of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR). In Florida, Camp Noah is run by LDR, Lutheran Services Florida, and Lutheran Outdoor Ministries of Florida.

Next week, the counselors will lead the camp in Arcadia – but on their week “off,” the counselors are seeing the physical effects of Charley close up.

On Tuesday, two counselors made a house visit on behalf of DCDR in order to survey any unmet needs for one mother and her family. Both said the experience was an eye-opener for them, as the woman was living with her many children in two small trailers and had done most of the work around her still severely damaged home by herself.

“I felt like we were in a different country,” said Kristen Pieper, a counselor from Minnesota.

“It was the worst damage I’ve ever seen, I’ve just never seen anything like that,” said Pia Wakeman, a counselor from Australia.

Other counselors took a tour of the remaining damage around the city. Catheryn Stewart, director of Camp Noah Florida, said the visit, tour, and now the ramp rebuild were meant to help the counselors really understand the children and adults in attendance at the Camp Noah sites.

“I thought it was important for them to have one week where they could see what people in Florida dealt with,” explained Stewart.

Laura Michael, a counselor from North Carolina, agreed that their time in Arcadia really showed them that the recovery is not yet finished. “Before starting the camp, I just didn’t hear about this kind of damage, you know – you think everyone’s okay,” she said, taking a break from working on the ramp in the midday sun.

“We learned that wasn’t the case.”

Back at the DCDR office, Kimbrough and Nicholson both know that’s not the case, either. Mennonite Disaster Service is rebuilding homes in one part of town. Catholic Charities and The Salvation Army are providing help with bills and appliances. The American Red Cross is providing case workers. The local Methodist and Presbyterian church are also providing significant assistance.

And the families just keep coming in. “It’s amazing to me that new cases are still coming in now – why would you wait that long?” Nicholson wondered aloud.

“They just finally gave up,” Kimbrough answered. “It’s a real mess.”

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