Needs exist after holiday storms

Residents still reeling from a Christmas Day tornado are facing recovery issues.

BY HEATHER MOYER | DEBARY, Fla. | February 1, 2007

Residents still reeling from a Christmas Day tornado are facing recovery issues after a request for a federal disaster declaration was denied this week. Local agencies are helping in the meantime, but the forward progress will be slow.

"These are a lot of low-income folks, and they're holding out on their own for now and maybe living with relatives, but that's getting old," said the Rev. Bill Beebe of DeLeon Springs United Methodist Church.

Piles of rubble remain where mobile homes once stood and still other homes are dotted with blue tarp roofs, a reminder of the powerful tornado that tore through Volusia County, Fla., mid-day on Christmas. The tornado destroyed or severely damaged more than 100 homes near Debary and DeLand, in western Volusia County, before moving east and ripping up several homes and an apartment complex in Daytona Beach.

The state and county have appealed the federal denial and residents are waiting anxiously for more information.

The American Red Cross (ARC) has opened 135 cases so far for residents in need, said Ellen Newton, and there's one major need right now.

"Housing, whether it's replaced housing or affordable housing already here," said Newton, director of emergency services for the Florida Coast to Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross. She said many affected families had no insurance and now have no means to repair or rebuild.

Out in Debary, the Rev. Bill Beebe drives through the devastated mobile home parks. Some residents are stuck living in damaged homes covered in blue tarps because they have nowhere else to go, he said.

He added that because many of the damaged mobile homes were built in the 1970s, home repairs could be slowed or prevented due to code issues. "This is really a lot of people who are affected."

Dorothy Wilson was in her modular home when the tornado struck, and said she was fortunate to not have extensive damage. "I was cooking dinner and the wind blew my door open," said Wilson. "I noticed my outdoor Christmas tree blowing across the driveway."

The tornado tore off a car port section of Wilson's roof. She marveled at how random the storm's damage path was, noting that her next door neighbor's home lost its roof, but the ones across the street suffered no damage. Homes down around the corner from Wilson's didn't fare as well. An empty lot and bulldozer sit on the slab from where one destroyed home had just been removed. The homes next door have sheets of twisted aluminum and roofing hanging off.

"There were aluminum pieces wrapped all through the trees, too," she remembered.

The damage over in Daytona Beach is just as dotted. One apartment complex has a path torn right through the middle. Walls and roofs are missing from some units and the kitchens and living rooms contents are visible from the street. Mud and insulation are splattered across the walls from the driving winds of the tornado.

Newton said the apartment renters have now been placed into other complexes around the city, thanks to the help of the apartment's management company. What's next for the homeowners is still up in the air.

Both Beebe and Newton are members of Volusia County Interfaiths/Agencies Networking in Disasters (VIND), which meets Thursday to discuss what is next now that the initial federal declaration request has been denied. The two say they're anxious to help the affected residents, but they may not be able to step in much more until people have gone through the county and state for any possible resources.

The two agreed that having VIND in place now is a big step forward in disaster recovery, having formed the interfaith back during the 2004 hurricane season.

"We were so fortunate to learn from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons," explained Newton. "We know what's coming next and we know the process will take some time."

A lack of affordable housing in Volusia County complicates the recovery, said Beebe. "The need far outstrips what is available," he said.

Newton agreed. "We can't find a similar rent for most of them, and there's a long list of names on the county's subsidized housing list."

Newton said the immediate needs of the families were met by the ARC and some churches - including Beebe's, which provided funds for a new windshield on a car belonging to a disabled low income resident who needed the car for work. And many agencies keep calling in to ask how they can help, she added.

Beebe's church recently donated a truckload of items for a rummage sale where the proceeds will benefit one affected resident. "She's the coworker of a church member, and she lost everything," he said.

Mental health resources are being provided to those who request it for now via the American Red Cross, and Marilyn Juengst added that she expects as time passes, more people will request the help.

"It's still early in the process," said Juengst, a member of of VIND and the Mental Health Association Volusia/Flagler. "The emotional response right after a disaster is a flurry and sometimes goes underground as they deal with it initially. Then later they either get busy making the recovery happen, or they get too sad to deal with it all.

"It's like grief. When you get hit by a disaster, it changes the journey of your life, and it becomes about how you deal with that change."

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