PA volunteers clean up

Chris Bridge stood inside a dark and dank home Saturday afternoon that only two weeks ago was full of water.


"We've only touched one house here and there are so many more."

—Becky Richie

Chris Bridge stood inside a dark and dank home Saturday afternoon that only two weeks ago was full of water.

"They had to strip this all down to the studs," said Bridge. "This house has been flooded three times now in two years."

Bridge isn't the homeowner, but rather a volunteer spending her Saturday helping flood-affected residents clean up their homes in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania.

"The woman who lives in this house is 80 years old," she explained. "She's going to live in the trailer in her backyard for now, so we're cleaning it up."

Stepping back outside to the muddy yard right up against the Delaware River, Bridge said she and a few fellow seminary students decided that volunteering was an excellent way to spend their free Saturday. "We knew people here needed help. We said 'Anything we could do, we want to do it.' "

Bridge's fellow Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (LTSP) students were split between cleaning up the inside of the trailer and washing the windows on the outside. Out in the front yard, Bridge's son and another friend sawed downed tree limbs that had blocked the driveway.

The team all heard about the need for volunteers from the Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR) coordinators of the southeast Pennsylvania synod. "We felt really bad for people here, this is the third time for them," said Bridge. "I had wanted to go down to help out with (Hurricane) Katrina recovery, but this is in our backyard. We need to help here. You don't need to drive a thousand miles to go help someone."

The devastation around eastern Pennsylvania is easy to see. The heavy rains of late June caused flash flooding and forced rivers like the Delaware from their banks. Hundreds of homes were seriously damaged, including many in the tiny community of Upper Black Eddy, which sits right next to the Delaware River.

All through the town's neighborhoods sit piles of soggy belongings. Refrigerators, couches, hot water heaters, carpet and more line some streets, freshly removed from water-logged basements and first floors. Mounds of mud and dirt have dusted the streets and cars with the residue of high water.

Bridge and the other LDR volunteers said they all imagine they will be back to help more because the recovery process will be a long one. "We've only touched one house here and there are so many more," said Becky Richie, an LTSP scrubbing the windows of the trailer. She's quick to point out the benefit of determined volunteers, though.

"We can't prevent disasters like these, but we can help repair and clean up. This is how we respond in faith."

Over at the Upper Black Eddy fire house, LDR volunteer coordinator Linda Frey smiled when she thought of the volunteers. "We've had a good turnout today. Folks from all over want to come help out."

She hopes the turnout and interest remain that way, especially considering how the full extent of the damage isn't always known right away. "The situation changes hourly in these areas," she explained. "You go door-to-door and you start finding more damage. You can't always see it from the outside; you don't always know what's damaged until you talk to the homeowners.

"Some had three inches of water in the house and others had three feet."

Frey and the Rev. Serena Sellers took time Saturday to knock on each door along one stretch of the river in the town, checking in on homeowners to pass out food, check on needs and distribute information on how to get help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and LDR.

The reaction to this latest flood is mixed, the two said. Some are ready to move out, others are unsure of what's next, and still others are stuck in serious need because of their age and lack of resources.

For 13-year-old Missy Carr, a local teen who's experienced and been evacuated during each of the three floods, the answer to what it's like living through repeat disasters is short and to the point. "It's gettin' old," said the teen with a wry smile.

Yet Carr remains committed to her neighbors. She helped evacuate pets from vacationing friends' homes in advance of the flood. She's helped mud out basements and Saturday she joined the LDR teams to do more.

That volunteer spirit is one Frey wants to last through this recovery. She said she's noticed a change for the better amongst many area congregations since Hurricane Katrina. "There's been a difference in volunteer response between the last two floods, Hurricane Katrina and this flood. I think Katrina made a lot of congregations start volunteering more."

But it's not just Lutherans Frey is looking for. "We take volunteers of any denomination and those of no denomination at all."

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