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Volunteers stream in to help ND town

Long-term recovery committee being formed in tornado-ravaged Northwood.

BY P.J. HELLER | NORTHWOOD, ND | September 1, 2007

Hundreds of volunteers were expected to stream into the tiny tornado-wrecked town of Northwood over the long Labor Day weekend as the community continued to recover from the storm.

Individuals and large groups, including students from the University of Minnesota-Crookston and the University of North Dakota, have been arriving to assist the 1,000 residents of the town devastated by Sunday's EF-4 tornado. The storm killed one person, injured 18 others and damaged about 90 percent of the homes in the town.

Lutheran Disaster Response, working in conjunction with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, was coordinating the volunteer effort.

With access to the town still restricted power was still being restored - volunteers were being bused into the town. A curfew remained in place, enforced by both state police and the National Guard, but was expected to be eased.

Meetings were held Friday to establish a long-term recovery committee. Those attending included representatives from state, city and faith-based organizations. Gov. John Hoeven, who on Friday requested a federal disaster declaration for the town, also attended the sessions.

"We know this tornado has created real hardship for the community, and we will continue to do all we can to help citizens recover and rebuild," Hoeven said.

Joan Buchhop of Lutheran Disaster Response said plans called for setting up a "one-stop shop" where residents could seek and obtain help.

Volunteers were cleaning up debris from the storm, including downed tree limbs. They were also walking through farm fields picking up debris so that farmers could use their machinery to harvest crops. Once insurance adjusters had completed inspecting damaged homes, the volunteers were expected to assist residents clean up inside their homes.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints brought a semitrailer filled with cleaning buckets, wheelbarrows, rakes and other supplies. Other denominations part of the North Dakota Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster were seeking funds to assist in the recovery.

"With the response that we've had we've had perhaps 300 or more volunteers per day starting Wednesday and expect 450 Saturday by the end of the holiday we will have a very good handle on having most of it cleaned up," Buchhop said.

"The people here are just phenomenal," she said of both the volunteers and the residents. "They just pitch in and go do it. They're very hard workers."

The long-term recovery committee will target unmet needs in the town and help residents with repairing and rebuilding their homes. Mennonite Disaster Service in North Dakota has already offered assistance but was advised to wait until that phase of the recovery starts.

Buchhop said work teams from a three-state area would also likely be available to assist in rebuilding efforts.

"The last two years, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana have gone ahead and sent work teams down to the Gulf Coast to rebuild," she said. "What that means is that those people are in our own back yard and we're going to put out a plea out to them to come and help rebuild here."

Among the anticipated needs will be sheetrock, windows, paint, lumber and garage doors, Buchhop said.

Hoeven said about 90 percent of the Northwood residents had private insurance coverage on their homes. Public buildings, including the school and fire hall, were insured under the state's fire and tornado fund, he said.

Northwood is located about 30 miles from Grand Forks, which flooded in 1997. Buchhop worked as site manager there for Lutheran Disaster Response.

"There's a lot of people from Grand Forks and the neighboring communities coming to Northwood saying, 'You helped us out in our time of need. We're here to return the favor,'" she said.

"There's a real sense of community, where one part is hurt the rest feel their pain and they come and help," she added.

Buchhop said the response to the disaster was not unexpected.

"I'm not surprised given the family feeling up here, the feeling of community," she said. "I'm surprised at how quickly they can mobilize to accomplish putting teams together to come."

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