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Church gives hope to flood survivors

Many wonder if they will ever go home.


The Rev. Lou Kilgore's church office is full of cots. So is the church choir room, the parlor and all of the Sunday School classrooms.

More than 160 people stayed at the Bound Brook Presbyterian Church after flooding devastated the community almost two weeks ago. A few families have since moved on, but many still remain.

As Kilgore gave a tour of his church Thursday, he said those still there will be the hardest to place.

"They've really got no place to go," he said.

The overwhelming majority of the families sheltering at the church are Hispanic from the low-income neighborhood in town. Some are undocumented. Kilgore said the families are dealing with no insurance, very little savings and a lack of affordable housing in Bound Brook.

"Many in this church are wondering if they will ever go home," he said.

Kilgore estimated that at least 350 housing units were destroyed by the flood. The church, he said, will help the families in any way possible to help them get their lives back together.

Kilgore is familiar with the long-term disaster recovery process, having helped spearhead the recovery after flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

"We learned a lot of lessons then," he said. "We're better prepared this time."

The very last case being handled from Hurricane Floyd was finally closed the Monday before the most recent storm hit.

Kilgore said the needs are great for the hundreds of people affected by the latest round of flooding. He hoped to form an unmet needs roundtable with the assistance of the New Jersey Interfaith Partnership for Disaster, a statewide disaster recovery organization.

"They already have all the wheels and processes figured out, and they have all the existing partnerships with the many disaster relief agencies out there," he said.

Kilgore gave his Thursday afternoon church tour to two members of the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) National Response Team.

"I'm here to assess the situation and see what resources we need to gather for the long-term unmet needs," said Bruce McGraw, a PDA representative from Lawrenceville, N.J.

McGraw was joined by retired pastor Tom Baker, a fellow member of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville.

"I'm here to see what needs to be done," Baker said. "Our church can help do some cleanup and arrange work teams."

McGraw said another PDA staffer was scheduled to arrive Saturday to help with the long-term recovery.

Kilgore said he was happy to have the assistance - which was coming from all sides. As he spoke with McGraw and Baker, members of the community stopped in to ask what else was needed.

The American Red Cross was helping staff the church shelter along with church members who have been working there since the first night of the flood. Since then, the shelter has been running non-stop.

In a busy and loud fellowship hall, shelter residents and their children were playing and chatting after lunch.

Dave Costain, a church member and Red Cross volunteer, said he was pleased the church made an effort to welcome families with young children.

"We've got lots of babies here," he said.

Costain said he, too, was worried about what was next for the families, knowing that many will have no place to live.

"Some houses were condemned, others have their landlords just walking away from it all and not wanting to repair," he said.

Despite those hardships, Costain said, some of the flood survivors were helping out around the shelter with cleaning, translating and cooking. He described the atmosphere as positive.

"It's like a family here," he said. "You can see the friendships forming around you."

Driving the streets of Bound Brook and nearby Manville later Thursday, Kilgore pointed out the hardest hit areas. The historic downtown Bound Brook business area was once again severely flooded and almost every business suffered damage. The streets were lined with water-logged debris dragged out from the shops. Dust and dried mud coated the streets, clouding up whenever a car drove by or when someone walked through it.

Kilgore said he was concerned that some businesses might not recover, leading to job losses. The economic impact was already being felt by people thrown out of work while their companies remain closed to clean up or whose employers have announced that they will not reopen.

The flood-affected neighborhoods look the same as the business district, with furniture, drywall, carpeting and personal belongings piled on front lawns. Several bulldozers scooped up the detritus and placed it into waiting dump trucks.

Kilgore said flooding of the town might have been prevented if a flood wall started by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers after the 1999 flood had been completed. The flood wall was built around the lowest parts of the city to protect it from the two creeks and one river that caused all the damage.

"It was about 93 percent completed, but the one end that would've stopped the flood wasn't completed," Kilgore said. "The money for it was budgeted, but not appropriated. If that had been done, there would've been no flooding.

"We know that wall wouldn't have stopped (Hurricane Floyd), but this one would've been stopped," he said. "Politicians would've come here with balloons and a parade to show off what they had been able to prevent."

The most recent flood might get the wall completed, Kilgore said.

In any case, the focus for him now was not political, he said, but rather getting help to the families that need it most. He said he has been bolstered by calls and e-mails from churches around the state and nation offering support, prayers and assistance.

He said he was certain the faith community would continue to lend a helping hand — as it had after Hurricane Floyd - as the current recovery spans months or even years.

"In a real crisis," he said, "the church community is really the broker of hope."

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Related Links:

Bound Brook Presbyterian Church

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

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