OH struggles after floods

Two federal disaster declarations in two months have increased the demand for volunteers in northern Ohio.

BY HEATHER MOYER | TOLEDO, Ohio | August 9, 2006

Two federal disaster declarations in two months have increased the demand for volunteers in northern Ohio.

Tornadoes and flooding struck the Toledo and Norwalk area in late June, then flooding hit east of Cleveland in Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties in late July. Thousands of homes were affected in both disasters.

So far, nearly 12,000 cases from the late June disaster sit in the lap of Mary Woodward and a group of responding agencies. For the late July flooding, more than 2,300 people have already applied for federal assistance.

"Cleanup is the biggest priority," said Woodward, disaster response coordinator for Lutheran Social Services in Ohio. "We also need help finding housing and obtaining resources to start rebuilding near Toledo."

Woodward is using her experience as the director of the Southeast Ohio Disaster Relief Network (SEODRN) to help the affected counties start long-term recovery committees or touch base with a few that have been dormant for several years. Woodward said she's also working with Church World Service and Lutheran Disaster Response to form the new committees.

Flooding destroyed more than 110 houses in Lake County, and Jim Ditzler estimates that more than 500 were affected. "This area gets spring flooding each year, but this degree of flooding is the first we've had in a long time," said Ditzler, disaster response coordinator for the Ohio Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Ditzler said a long-term recovery committee covering Lake, Ashtabula and Geauga counties has now formed. The committee is hoping to hire and train caseworkers very soon. The hardest hit community is Painesville in Lake County, he noted. A crew of volunteers showed up this past weekend to clean out homes, but more will be needed.

"We need to identify the people who need help," said Ditzler. "Once we know more about the needs, we'll need more volunteers."

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