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Wyoming town rebuilds

If anybody wanted to volunteer in Wyoming, Vicky Schlidt would know where to put them.

BY HEATHER MOYER | WRIGHT, Wyo. | October 28, 2005

If anybody ever wanted to volunteer in Wyoming, Vicky Schlidt would know where to put them.

"If we had ten volunteers every day until Christmas, we could certainly utilize them," said Schlidt, director of Wright Community Assistance (WCA) in Wright, Wyo.

Schlidt and WCA are in charge of the recovery after an F-2 tornado slammed into the small town Aug. 12, killing two people and destroying numerous homes. The needs in the town include a little bit of everything, but Schlidt said WCA mostly need help sorting and distributing donated goods in the agency's warehouse. "We could use them help us keep on top of everything," said Schlidt.

More than 80 families were made homeless by the Aug. 12 twister, and Schlidt said many are living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Unfortunately, others are stuck living in homes that are still damaged, unable to afford to fix everything at once. And with the winter starting to set in, the needs for those families are becoming more urgent.

"I know a lot of people who didn't lose homes, but they did lose windows and siding and roofs," explained Schlidt. "We know that these people are anticipating being cold before they are able to fix everything up. Some can't afford to have a company come in and redo everything all at once, so they'll buy a few windows at a time."

So WCA is using its relief fund to support those families. Already a prominent social service agency in the Campbell County mining community, Schlidt said she was still honored to have WCA be asked by the town to take the lead in the recovery process. She credits Church World Service Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Tom Davis and other federal officials for helping WCA know just how to address disaster recovery needs.

And then the physical help started arriving. Schlidt always knew the area was generous, but after seeing just how much support poured in after the tornado, she was overwhelmed.

"People are still calling in wanting to bring us stuff," she said. "We don't need it now, but what amazes me is that it's so ongoing." Donations came from nearby towns, but also from other states.

The donations are allowing WCA to make sure no families fall through the cracks in the recovery process.

And while Schlidt said people are being cared for, there are other worries creeping in. The emotional and mental impact of the tornado is taking its toll on families. She noted that some people get anxious anytime the sky gets dark, and others are just now facing what is needed for them to recover.

"People are still traumatized," she explained. "I think they're taking small steps in the recovery. People are becoming more aware of what's going on - it's like they've woken up from the numbness and they're starting to feel more. They're starting to realize that they might need some help. But there are also some saying, 'we made it through everything else, so we'll make it through this.'"

There are mental health professionals available for residents, and Schlidt knows that will help everyone continue to cope with the devastation. The local schools are providing counseling services for the town's kids, she added.

Yet life is looking more positive within Wright. Schlidt said the town looks wonderful because everything was cleaned up so quickly. With all the heavy equipment from the local mines available, the destroyed homes and remaining debris were promptly removed. "All the FEMA people were telling us how lucky we are," said Schlidt. "They said they've never seen a cleanup go so fast, and that we're six months ahead of ourselves."

WCA staff members are handling 65 cases for affected families right now and Schlidt said anyone can come to the WCA office for assistance. She is unable to estimate how long it will take for families to return to normal, but said that by next summer life might start resuming a regular 'feel' again.

In the meantime, they are grateful for what they do have. "The wonderful thing about this situation is that while people did lose their homes, no one lost their job," Schlidt noted. "The tornado didn't affect anyone's jobs. We should be thankful for that."

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