Sept. 11 overshadows new disasters

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE, MD | October 12, 2001

Other disasters have happened since Sept. 11 - but they're largely ignored,

say responders.

Four days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Tropical Storm Gabrielle inundated Florida with floodwaters that destroyed more than 50 homes and damaged more than a


But this disaster didn't make the major news networks -- not even

locally in Florida where more ample warning could have

prevented some of the damage.

When the flooding hit, even some responders hesitated,

said Linda Reed-Brown, associate director for domestic

response at the Church World Service (CWS) emergency

response program.

"People were not responding because they were afraid if

they got involved they wouldn't be able to go to New

York if they called to go there," she said.

Combine a lack of response with a lack of media

attention -- and therefore a lack of public support -

and survivors of other disasters end up feeling ignored,

said Reed-Brown.

"People dealing with other disasters have felt abandoned

and ignored," she said. They say 'does this mean we'll

never hear from you again?' "

People are particularly concerned in Houston, said

Reed-Brown, where thousands are only beginning to recover

from Tropical Storm Allison, which in June killed some

20 people and caused more than $1 billion in Texas

alone, destroying more than 300 homes and causing major

damage to more than 13,000. More than 90 percent of the

damage was in Harris County, where Houston sits.

Louisiana also sustained major damage from Allison, and

people in that state are trying to recover as well. More

than 56,000 people in that state have registered their

damages with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This week when tornadoes wiped out one quarter of the

small town of Cordell, OK -- an event that normally

would have made national news -- even responders had

trouble finding out details.

An estimated 150 in Cordell homes are now uninhabitable,

according to the Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency

Management. Crews still have to remove tons of debris.

CWS is assessing damages and considering sending a

trained volunteer to the area to help coordinate a faith-

based response.

"The news is so overwhelmingly dominated by the

attacks," said Johnny Wray, who coordinates Week of

Compassion, a giving program administered by the

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). "I know that's

the most important story but there are other things

going on in the world."

Leaders of organizations that do respond to other

disasters find themselves wondering if they'll have be

able to recruit volunteers to respond to anything

besides the Sept. 11 attacks.

But on a very local level, the attacks have inspired

people to simply help their neighbor in ways not

necessarily related to terrorism.

In a recent worldwide conference, leaders from the

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), urged

church members to improve their own lives and the lives

of those around them, said Patrick Reese, an LDS member

of the domestic round table of the CWS emergency

response program.

"They of course addressed the events on Sept. 11 and

encouraged us to look forward in faith," said Reese.

"Church leaders spoke to us on many subjects related to

God, His Son, the commandments, practical steps we can

take to improve our lives and the lives of those around


Taking such practical steps could mean volunteering to

help someone in need, whether or not that need is

directly related to Sept. 11 events or not.

Response leaders trying to recruit volunteers are hoping

that the motivation to help others will extend to

disasters other than Sept. 11, especially since there is

opportunity for hands-on volunteerism at other disaster

sites, and not at the New York or Washington, DC "ground


Other response leaders trying to emphasize disaster

preparedness are hoping that people will newly realize

the importance of being ready should disaster strike.

Before Sept. 11, Carolyn Tyler, executive director of

the North Carolina Interfaith Disaster Response, was

helping to coordinate plans for "Beyond Floyd" a

disaster preparedness program that will work through

local interfaith disaster response committees across the

state. "We now see it as even more urgent and

important," she said.

Tyler is working with personnel from North Carolina

emergency management. "Beyond Floyd" refers to Hurricane

Floyd, the Sept. 1999 storm that killed more than 40

people, destroyed tens of thousands of homes, and caused

$1 billion in losses.

In North Carolina, local interfaith disaster response

committees are still operating recovery centers for

survivors of Floyd, some of whom aren't yet back in

their damaged homes.

People in the midst of long-term recovery tend to get

overlooked, added Reed-Brown, even more so in the wake of the

Sept. 11 attacks.

Even some survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks are feeling

neglected as attention focuses on New York, said Brown.

"The Pentagon gets passing references," she said. "I

would like to see some sensitivity given to the people

in the Pentagon and the people who died in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, there was a lot of coverage for a few

days about the "heroes" on that particular plane. But

since then, in essence, they're a forgotten part of this

disaster," said Reed-Brown.

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