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Oklahoma town in need after flooding

Housing, volunteers and donations required in Miami.

BY HEATHER MOYER | MIAMI, Okla. | July 25, 2007

Housing, volunteers for cleanup and funding are all urgent needs in Miami weeks after severe flooding hit the area.

Hundreds of homes in the region were damaged when rivers left their banks in late June and early July. As more homes are condemned in the northeast Oklahoma town, responders are worried about what's next for the affected residents.

"They were letting some people back in to fix their homes, but now the city is saying they can't do that," said the Rev. Phil Shyers of Apostolic Assembly Church in Miami. "There will be a housing shortage. There are hundreds of families that will need housing."

Sam Porter, director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief in Oklahoma, said 250 to 300 homes in Miami have been condemned. More than 600 were damaged.

"That is a huge blow to the city and to the families," Porter said.

There are few rental units available in the town and at least one resident complained that rents on what little was available had doubled since the flood. Access to trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was being held up while tests were conducted by the Centers for Disease Control for elevated formaldehyde levels which can cause respiratory problems. Health concerns about the trailers had been raised elsewhere. A total of 146 residents are eligible for the travel trailers; about 40 trailers have arrived in the town.

Meantime, volunteers, including teams from Porter's organization and members of Shyers' church, were cleaning out homes. Porter said they had 127 requests for help from homeowners. His teams have been to nearby Bartlesville, where they cleaned 36 homes.

Shyers, who also heads the town's ministerial alliance, said the needs are great in Miami.

"If you live around here, there sure are a lot of people who need help fixing their homes," he said in an appeal for more volunteers.

"The other thing we need are donations," he said. "What I've seen more than anything are people with legitimate needs for money. These aren't people who are playing the system or are trying to make a gain out of this. These are people who are doing everything they can, they're just now caught in a bad situation. We're giving a lot away and trying to help families with expenses they wouldn't have had without this flood."

His church members were collecting monetary donations as well as furniture to distribute to residents. Some residents were seeking help paying utility bills, others needed help tearing out carpet or moving belongings into a new place.

Many of Shyers' church members were affected as well. The church's homeless shelter was destroyed. Those who lived there are now living in the church building, which Shyers said was not ideal but was at least providing a place for them to stay.

Five counties received federal disaster declarations from the recent flooding. Oklahoma Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (OKVOAD) members were meeting to discuss the recovery. Chairman Steve Moran said that while Comanche, Ottawa, Washington, Pottawatomie and Nowata counties received federal declarations, another 14 counties were also recovering from damages.

"Long-term recovery committees are getting ready to form," said Moran, who also serves as chief operating officer of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

He added that none of the affected counties had recovery committees in place.

"Cleanup is the big issue right now," he said.

Porter, OKVOAD vice chairman, said cooperation among responding organizations has been excellent. He said his teams were working with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams as well as with other denominations. Southern Baptist teams were also coming in from North Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief sent 1,000 flood buckets. Church of Christ Disaster Relief sent supplies as well. Church World Service was offering training for long-term recovery committees being formed. The Salvation Army was distributing supplies. A FEMA representative attended the last OKVOAD meeting to make sure organizations knew how the registration process worked when explaining it to affected residents.

That generosity is boosting some spirits, but Shyers said some affected residents were still in a rough spot emotionally.

"They're pretty devastated and stunned," he said of two of his affected church families. "They've lost everything they've worked for. One said they don't have the strength or will to rebuild.

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More links on Flooding


Related Links:

Apostolic Assembly Church


Southern Baptist Disaster Relief of Oklahoma

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