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Funds needed for new mobile homes

Tornado recovery in rural Florida focuses on replacements units.

BY HEATHER MOYER | DELAND, Fla. | June 5, 2007

As response organizations continue case management from the Feb. 2 tornadoes in central Florida, many say the biggest need will be for funds to replace mobile homes.

"A lot of our areas that were hit were very rural and had a vast majority of mobile and modular homes," said Michael Tart, chairman of the Lake and Sumter County Emergency Response committee (LASER). "We'll have very few rebuilds but many more replacement of homes."

The tornadoes that tore through Lake, Sumter and Volusia counties killed 21 people and severely damaged or destroyed more than 800 homes. Tart said some homes were completely disintegrated with only slabs remaining.

Marilyn Swanson of the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church said many residents won't be able to afford home replacements, and that is where the recovery organizations and committees must step in.

"The focus should be on financial resources for these counties," said Swanson, the conference's project director for disaster recovery.

Long-term recovery committees for each county are managing cases for affected residents. Committee officials said the process was moving slowly as they wait for insurance settlements to be finalized and for people to exhaust other funding possibilities, including Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, before coming to them.

Tart said LASER is handling 100 cases, and the Volusia Interfaith/Interagency Networking in Disaster (VIND) is looking at close to 44, some of which are from the Christmas Day tornadoes in 2006. The United Methodist Committee on Relief provided case management training for both committees. The American Red Cross was also providing case management.

Some Volusia County agencies were continuing to find more people in need, said VIND office manager Ellen Wallace.

"They've even found some homes that were on streets not on any maps," said Wallace, noting that many of the impacted areas were very rural.

The Rev. David Troxler, VIND chairman and pastor of First Christian Church in Daytona Beach, said mental health workers going door-to-door were finding cases of extreme stress and frustration among residents.

"We've got some real issues out there," Troxler said. "We're trying to get to these people and help them out. There is a lot of stress and now hurricane season is upon us."

Case managers at the American Red Cross (ARC) agreed. "We've been actively referring people to counselors," said Dan Roll, executive director of ARC's Florida Coast to Coast chapter.

Roll said the best way to help the remaining families in need is to send funds to VIND and LASER.

VIND's Troxler agreed that many homes will have to be replaced, but said that repairs were also needed. Mobile homes built before 1994 can only be repaired if the repair cost is less than $5,000, otherwise they need to be replaced, he said.

Troxler said he expected volunteers would be needed by mid-June.

Tart said the recovery phase in Lake and Sumter counties also was not ready for volunteers, but that they would soon be needed. In the meantime, he encouraged those wanting to help to send monetary donations or donations of building materials and grocery and hardware store gift cards.

Faith-based disaster response organizations ready to provide volunteers include the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. Many have already provided funding to the recovery committees.

"I think we're all kind of waiting as the case managers figure out which cases should be turned over to the committees and will then need volunteers," said the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, disaster response coordinator for the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ.

The denominations emphasized that they were ready to assist the recovery groups in any way possible.

"We're trying to find solutions to restore people back into their homes," Swanson said. "We've been in communication with all (the committees)."

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has almost completed a Volunteer Village in the Volusia County town of Glenwood. Village manager Charles MacDonald said final permits were expected from the county around June 10. The camp will be able to house and feed 90 volunteers, he said. Volunteers were helping complete the camp.

"People can donate directly to this village through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance," MacDonald said. "Or you could buy gift cards to Lowe's and donate them to the village. Those are spent solely on the homeowners. There are ways to help us, you can go to the PDA Web site and donate money for a pod to house the volunteers here. Or if you're local, you can come help maintain the camp for a day or cook for the volunteers for a day."

The delay in starting home repairs and rebuilds was not due to a lack of outside help, officials said, noting that volunteers came to the area immediately after the tornadoes to help with cleanup and debris removal. Others helped prepare and serve meals to affected residents and volunteers. PDA volunteer teams helped build a Volunteer Village in DeLand.

"There has been an outpouring of people who want to come in and help," Swanson said.

Committee members said they hoped the public would remain interested in helping the counties rebuild in the months ahead.

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More links on Tornadoes


Related Links:

Central Florida Presbytery

Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ

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