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Hurricane damage lingers

Evelyn Coleman sat on her front porch on a sweltering Wednesday morning.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BREWTON, Ala. | July 22, 2005

"We thought it was an excellent idea to do hurricane relief."

—Ron Woller

Evelyn Coleman sat on her front porch on a sweltering Wednesday morning as the sound of hammering rang out around her.

“It’s actually quieter out here than it is inside,” she said with a smile. Smiles are few and far between for the elderly woman in her eighties. Stricken with cancer, life in the past year has not been easy at all.

Coleman and her dogs stayed in her small home when Hurricane Ivan roared through the southern Alabama town last September. “We were scared to death of Ivan,” said the small-framed Coleman, rocking in her porch chair. “I’d never seen a hurricane like that before.”

Hurricane Ivan severely damaged the roof of her already dilapidated home, causing heavy rain to pour inside. That damage remained for the rest of year, destroying most of the inside of her home as mold and moisture spread. “The dining room was so wet that when I went to the refrigerator one morning, there was a large mushroom growing right next to it. And then the floorboards fell through.”

Coleman also weathered Hurricane Dennis in her home, another storm that only added to the structure's damage. With no insurance or family, Coleman was on her own for any type of repairs for the past year, a task that proved too challenging for her.

Yet some good news came for Coleman this week. The noise ringing out Wednesday morning was good noise, as seven young members of the Central United Methodist Church from Decatur, Ala., scrambled around on the roof attaching shingles.

Several adults and 14 youth made the trip to Brewton on Sunday so they could help rebuild hurricane-damaged homes for the week. Ron Woller, one of the adult leaders, said they have gone on mission trips to other countries before, but this time the distance was not important.

“We knew we didn’t have to go far to find mission work to do,” said Woller. “We thought it was an excellent idea to do hurricane relief.”

The youth team is split into two, with one team on Coleman’s home and another also doing roof work on another home across town. Woller said the trip has been an eye-opener for everyone. “Sure, you can see the some of the power of hurricanes on TV, but you just don’t get a real sense of the power until you see the destroyed buildings.”

For the members of East Brewton United Methodist Church (EBUMC), the out-of-town helpers are a godsend.

“I have the utmost respect for the people who come a long way to help people they don’t know,” said Elton Langston, a member of EBUMC that has been helping place volunteer groups around town.

Don Crispman, a fellow EBUMC member, echoed Langston’s statement. “It’s great to have these volunteers here, it’s a real blessing,” he said, noting that volunteers from all over the country have dropped into Brewton to lend their skills.

Both Langston and Crispman hope the volunteers keep coming, too, as the area has extensive rebuild and repair work ahead of it. Crispman said beyond the town boundaries of the Brewton and East Brewton, there are plenty of severely damaged homes scattered through the rural area that are very similar to Coleman’s.

More than 1,200 people across Alabama’s Escambia County suffered damages from Hurricane Dennis. Hurricane Ivan affected more than 7,500 people.

“There are many who have nobody to help them. They have no insurance – nothing,” he explained. “We’ve probably got 10 years of work here. Once you get out into the country, there are some houses and stories that will make you cry.”

Crispman quickly added that the smiles on the homeowners’ faces when volunteers repair their homes will also cause some tears.

For the volunteers up on Evelyn Coleman’s roof, the experience has been life-changing.

“We certainly didn’t expect this,” said David Kross, another leader of the Central UMC team. “This has been a great learning experience for everyone.”

For Coleman, all the noise may push her to the porch on a hot day, but it is still worth a smile. “They are all very nice kids and it feels good to have them here.”

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