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Volunteers respond in Ohio, Wisconsin

Long-term recovery committees forming.

BY HEATHER MOYER | FINDLAY, Ohio | September 1, 2007

Thousands of residents in Ohio and Wisconsin continued to clean up their homes after last week's severe flooding in the Midwest.

More than 2,100 homes across six counties in Ohio were impacted by the flooding, including 750 that were damaged or destroyed, according to preliminary damage estimates from the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. The six counties - Allen, Crawford, Hancock, Putnam, Richland, and Wyandot - all have received federal disaster declarations.

Two additional counties, Hardin and Seneca, were subsequently added to the federal disaster declaration list.

In Wisconsin, flooding affected more than 1,500 homes, with 50 homes destroyed and at least 300 others suffering major damage. Federal disaster declarations have been announced for five counties: Crawford, La Crosse, Richland, Sauk and Vernon.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was continuing its damage assessments in both states.

In Ohio, Findlay, Bucyrus, Shelby and Ottawa were among the communities hardest hit.

The Rev. Nichole Mazza-Fredly, pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Findlay, said piles of flood-ruined belongings sitting in front of homes in the town was heartbreaking.

"What's really affecting me personally is seeing the drastic devastation left in the city now," she said.

Mazza-Fredly's church was among the buildings damaged. As floodwaters rose, sewage backed up into the church's basement, which serves as the fellowship hall and houses the kitchen, the furnace and Sunday School rooms.

Several members of her congregation had their homes damaged. Mazza-Fredly said no one believed the flooding could get that bad.

"Once I saw the news people on TV broadcasting in front of the real high water, I said, 'We need to get to the church,'" she recalled. "It took us a long time to get there and it was surreal. You see the water and all the boats and you think, 'This can't be happening.'"

Once the water was pumped out of the church basement, volunteers from the church, community and from around the state joined to help tear out drywall and remove debris. Mazza-Fredly said she was amazed by the support that poured in from the Week of Compassion Disciple of Christ organization and their fellow Christian churches.

"The outreach of care - it's just one of those things I never expected," she said. "The money and the resources, you don't think of those things when you're overwhelmed. Just having people genuinely care was a huge gift."

With the church now ready for professionals to do the remaining work, Mazza-Fredly was urging her congregation to help others in the community who were in desperate need.

"Our job is to go out there," she said.

Findlay was not alone is seeing support and care, said Mary Woodward, chairman of Ohio Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (OHVOAD). Woodward said volunteers call in daily offering help. Such assistance will be crucial due to the amount of damage done and how long the recovery will take, she said.

Four long-term recovery committees were forming for Richland, Crawford, Hancock and Putnam counties. OHVOAD also set up a relief fund for the public to donate money for long-term recovery efforts in the state.

"There are not many with insurance," Woodward said. "The last time some of these areas were hit was 1987. We're already scheduling volunteers for the rebuilding process now."

She added that cleanup volunteers were still needed in some communities. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland urged the public to stay informed about the correct ways to volunteer and donate to the flood relief effort.

"I appreciate everyone's willingness to help, however I want to remind everyone that caution must be exercised to ensure unsolicited donations and unaffiliated volunteers do not overburden rescue and relief efforts," Strickland said.

The governor's office encouraged individuals and businesses who want to assist in relief efforts to seek information provided by volunteer agencies, faith-based organizations and community partners regarding identified needs. Strickland also touted the National VOAD message that financial donations were the best way to help, as they are immediately placed into the areas with the greatest impact and the greatest need.

Around the state, denominations checked in on churches and assisted in the response. Woodward, who also serves as a Lutheran Disaster Response of Ohio representative, said four Lutheran churches suffered flood damage.

Representatives from affected United Methodist Church (UMC) conferences in Ohio were assisting with forming the long-term recovery committees.

Bill Baker, chairman of the disaster response committee for UMC's East Ohio Conference, said it was working via the United Methodist Committee on Relief to provide funding and case management training. Various conference districts were also distributing flood buckets and other supplies to residents.

"We're trying to find those who've fallen through the cracks and those for whom the federal and state response won't be enough," Baker said.

The situation was similar in southwestern Wisconsin, where long-term recovery committees were conducting their first meetings and faith groups were reaching out to those in need.

Pam Brownlee, Coulee District disaster coordinator for the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, said it appeared that many communities will have long-term recovery committees in the area.

Her response has focused on the small town of Gays Mills.

"There's a tremendous amount of work to be done there," she said. "Some people still have water in their basements."

Brownlee said hundreds of volunteers have shoveled out mud and removed carpet and drywall. A United Methodist spiritual care team was expected to be in Gays Mills this weekend going door-to-door to offer assistance to residents, she said.

The Rev. Mike Christensen was in a similar situation to Findlay's Mazza-Fredly. Christensen, pastor of Gays Mills United Methodist Church, said he was working on clearing out the building's basement after it was flooded.

"It was up to the ceiling down there. As such, the basement had fridges, sinks, stoves, our new furnace, water heater and all that - and it's gone," he said.

He said the room also served as the Sunday School area, so books were lost to the high water.

He said people in the small town were coping well and were helping one another.

"Everyone is coming together," Christensen said. "Doesn't matter what your church is or what your name is - and it's the same with the out-of-town volunteers. Everybody helped everyone else. The town has always been close, but now they're even closer. People in crisis grow closer together and this is an example of that."

That communal support will be needed as the recovery continues, he added, especially as people's emotions range from 'I'm OK' to 'I'm never going to be OK.'

In Ohio, Mazza-Fredly continued to encourage her congregation and the community. She said the care given to her church has strengthened it, and so it will do the same for others affected by the flooding.

"We will survive and rebuild," Mazza-Fredly said. "The support has been wonderful. That has been the one sustaining thing for me, just knowing that people care. It helps you get through when you think you've hit bottom."

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Related Links:


Week of Compassion

United Methodist Committee on Relief

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