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FL Panhandle continues repairs

This week the weather grew a little colder in the Florida Panhandle region, and Rebuild Northwest Florida received a few more calls.

BY HEATHER MOYER | PENSACOLA, Fla. | October 28, 2005

"We've gotten some wonderful volunteer groups here before, but we still need them."

—Carolyn Appleyard

This week the weather grew a little colder in the Florida Panhandle region, and Rebuild Northwest Florida received a few more calls.

"We had 24 calls on Monday and Tuesday," said Carolyn Appleyard, co-executive director of Rebuild Northwest Florida (RNWF). "We did have Hurricane Dennis hit over the summer and I think now we're seeing those who maybe thought they could recover on their own but can't."

RNWF is an agency set up by local businesses and community groups in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties after Hurricane Ivan devastated the region last year. It is also helping those affected by Hurricane Dennis. The agency focuses on rebuilding and repairing damaged and destroyed homes. RNWF is now feeling the pinch on services by the thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors now living in the area.

Appleyard said the rental market was already tight before Ivan and Dennis, and now that Katrina survivors are living in town - it's even tighter.

"There is virtually no affordable housing here," she explained. "So we're focusing even harder on repairs so that people who had houses before Ivan and Dennis can get back into them."

More than 950 homes are somewhere in the construction process right now, said Appleyard, be it at the estimate point or just finished up with repairs. A summer 'roofing blitz' helped move the recovery process forward a little more quickly. Skilled volunteers are still desperately needed to continue moving the recovery forward, but any volunteers are welcome. And unfortunately, she added, the agency is seeing a decline in volunteers as other disasters are getting the attention.

"We're trying not to complain too much, though, because we know where some people are and how they feel right about now," she said. "We've gotten some wonderful volunteer groups here before, but we still need them."

RNWF is working closely with the local Habitat for Humanity on building more homes for families, with Appleyard noting that because of the tight rental market, RNWF would like to have more renters move into home ownership.

The influx of Hurricane Katrina survivors has the two panhandle long-term recovery committees (LTRCs) shifting their focus as well.

So far the United Way of Escambia County has taken the lead in addressing the needs of Katrina survivors there, but soon the Escambia County LTRC (ECLTRC) will help because the two agencies already work so closely together.

"We expect the LTRC will expand its mission to include the Katrina evacuees," said Jackie Bell, chair of ECLTRC. Bell agrees that ECLTRC's tactics have changed since the survivors came into town because of the demand on resources, but that they are tweaking their own response to be able to meet more needs of both the Katrina survivors and those affected by Dennis and Ivan.

Right now ECLTRC is handling the case management of those affected by hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, and Bell said they are still receiving new cases. "We are focusing on getting the current caseload service, but we do still have new cases coming in. I think those who are coming to us now maybe have just gotten done with insurance and need more help. For others, the costs are higher now given all of the other storms, so people can't recover as easily. It's a lot of things that's bringing them forward."

Bell said ECLTRC continues to help those with little or no insurance, as well as those who do not qualify for federal help. The needs now are shifting toward items like septic systems, air conditioners and other big ticket items that may not be allowed under the aid the families have received already. She agreed that the lingering needs continue to be volunteers and monetary donations, but added that she is grateful to organizations that committed to the long-term recovery in the region, such as the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) - which supplies volunteer rebuild teams.

And with the increased number of hurricanes roaring into the Gulf of Mexico, Bell said ECLTRC is shifting its focus to disaster planning as well. "We're looking at another ten years of (increased hurricanes)," explained Bell. "I think all of us remain realistic about whether we're going to be getting other storms."

Bell said ECLTRC's experience with hurricane recovery in the past year only makes them very knowledgeable about what needs to be done to move to the recovery stage faster in future disasters.

The same goes for the Santa Rosa County Long-Term Recovery Committee (SRCLTRC). The committee's chair, Millard Adams, said he is working hard to get other local government agencies and organizations involved in the disaster mitigation and planning process. He said SRCLTRC is also balancing the caseload from Ivan and Dennis, making sure no one has been left out.

For that matter, Adams credits the local churches for playing a crucial role in the recovery process. "My personal belief is that without faith-based organizations like neighborhood churches, it would be much more difficult for the response needs and recovery to be met," he explained.

"They are really on the front line in the neighborhood already."

Related Topics:

What makes a community resilient?

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

Teams continue to rebuild in SC

More links on Disaster Recovery


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