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Responders reflect on needs

As the holidays approach, disaster responders reflect on the lingering needs - small and large - around us.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 20, 2005

"The celebration of the Christmas holiday can feel like a weight and burden when lives are disrupted by disaster."

—Rev. Kevin Massey

As the holidays approach, disaster responders reflect on the lingering needs - small and large - around us. Below, 10 things to remember about disaster survivors this year.

1. Don't forget so-called "smaller disasters" are still disasters for people. In the small town of Wright, Wyoming, cold weather is complicating long-term tornado recovery. Fifty-five families are living in mobile homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Vicky Schlidt, director of Wright Community Assistance. "Now that Christmas is upon us, some people are just now coming into the center to ask for help," she said.

2. Recovery is different for every person. "People who have been impacted by disasters have a lot of difficulty at times navigating their road to recovery," said Tom Hazelwood, executive secretary for U.S. disaster response for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). "It is the case manager who is able to walk that road with the survivors and help them find the resources that are needed to get to their place of recovery. For each person, that place is different."

3. Grief for lost loved ones may sharpen during holidays. "It's very difficult when you lose a loved one, and it's difficult when that first anniversary comes of their death," said Tereza Byrne of Adventist Development and Relief as she reflected on the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster that devastated South Asia nearly one year ago. "Can you imagine how those survivors will feel? Those images will roll in - on TV, in the newspapers, the radio reports. They're remembering the people they lost in a very brutal way."

4. Long-lasting needs can still be critical. In Pakistan, more than two months after an earthquake killed 75,000 people, relief groups are scrambling to prevent a second wave of deaths. "The most important thing now is for people to have what they need to survive the winter season," said Julie Ideh, regional representative for South Asia for Catholic Relief Services. "The most important thing is shelter."

5. Happiness may evade some disaster survivors this time of year. "The celebration of the Christmas holiday can feel like a weight and burden when lives are disrupted by disaster," said the Rev. Kevin Massey, assistant director for Evangelical Lutheran Church of America domestic disaster response and Lutheran Disaster Response. "This season, so many are struggling to put homes, communities and lives back together, and celebration can feel almost impossible in the midst of such loss."

6. Technological disasters take their toll. From lingering power outages in the Carolinas after last week's ice storm, to high heat costs nationwide, to lack of public transportation in New York City - thousands of people are being impacted by technological disasters every day.

7. Last year's disasters are still this year's disasters for many people. In Pennsylvania, the Greater Chartiers Valley Long Term Recovery Team is helping to rewire homes that have been repaired and rebuilt since Hurricane Ivan struck in September 2004.

8. Florida is facing serious challenges recovering from its 2004 hurricanes. The United Church of Christ (UCC) - among many other faith-based groups - reported it is seeking work groups to help people in Florida rebuild. "Over 40,000 homes remain to be addressed from 2004," reported the UCC. "These are people who have not received help from other channels of disaster recovery and continue to have unmet needs for housing."

9. Response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita is massive and unprecedented. "It has been a long time since Brethren Disaster Response has had more than two or three projects going at one time, but this extremely active and damaging hurricane season has compelled us to stretch ourselves and do more," reported the Church of the Brethren.

10. People still aren't well-prepared for disasters. According to a survey by American Family Safety, 85 percent of people are concerned about disasters and emergencies - but only 13 percent have a kit with disaster supplies. "The human tendency is to avoid thinking about unpleasant issues," said Jared Rabinowitz, a safety expert with American Family Safety. "The number one step toward disaster preparedness is really to sit down and actually be a family - talk about how you will work together as a team in a variety of emergency situations."

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