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Kansas flood recovery advances

Funding needed for some committees.

BY HEATHER MOYER | OSAWATOMIE, Kan. | October 11, 2007

Recovery from summer flooding in Miami County, Kan., is moving forward quickly thanks to widespread support from the public.

"It's been pretty remarkable," said Rob Roberts, local director of The Salvation Army in Miami and Linn counties. "We've got a lot of good people, great teamwork and great resources."

Roberts said Miami County Disaster Assistance (MCDA) averages almost 300 repair and rebuild volunteers every weekend.

Flooding in July damaged more than 425 properties in the county, the majority of them in the city of Osawatomie. Nearly 50 homes and buildings had to be torn down.

MCDA did a case management assessment on 400 of the affected residents, Roberts said, and then helped 100 homeowners reoccupy their houses. It also helped more than 100 affected renters secure new rental spaces in the area.

The 28 homes that still require work have volunteers swarming them every weekend to repair and rebuild the residences, said Roberts, a member of MCDA.

"We are still taking volunteers at this point, but dollars are the real key," he said. "At this juncture, the FEMA grants [that] folks got and the resources from the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army - those have all been exhausted by many. Financial assistance is kind of short right now."

Seven of the remaining homes were getting a boost from BreakPointe Community Church in nearby Overland Park. The church has committed to redoing those homes, said BreakPointe Pastor Tom Kinnan. Five of the homes will be completely rebuilt.

"We're trying to do our part," Kinnan said. "Our mission is not just to build buildings but to assist people. We hope to have two done by the end of October, two more by the end of November. We have the money to finish five of the seven.

"We have a lot of people stepping up to help out with those, which is terrific," he added. "Our challenge is raising all the money, $250,000. The biggest cost is rebuilding those two homes from scratch."

One of the destroyed homes belongs to the pastor of BreakPointe's sister church, Osawatomie Wesleyan Church. Kinnan said his church was happy to be involved in such an important recovery. Volunteer teams from BreakPointe and churches from around Kansas and Missouri were working on the homes, which BreakPointe calls its "Osawatomie Project."

Local businesses were pitching in as well, Roberts said.

Embarq, a telecommunications company, was rebuilding two handicapped adult group homes that were destroyed by the flooding.

Roberts said he has received numerous calls asking how to help or offering volunteer teams ready to help.

"It's been a really good outpouring of support," he said.

Roberts said MCDA has not put an end date on the long-term recovery for the county because it didn't want people to think the organization will disappear on them. The flood's emotional toll has been high as well, and MCDA's member organizations were providing mental health referrals and spiritual care.

"The emotions here are all over the board," Roberts said. "Some people are completely stressed out and others are getting through it."

Miami County will also soon join a regional long-term recovery coalition covering eight or nine counties in eastern Kansas. Cheryl Brekke of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the regional recovery teams are designed primarily to help those counties without a local long-term recovery committee.

"Miami and Allen counties are the strong counties because they have a local long-term recovery committee," said Brekke, a FEMA voluntary agency liaison in Kansas. "We develop these regional ones to cover the unmet needs that may surface in the other counties. The regional entity can take a look at those."

The regional team was scheduled to meet for the first time today and Brekke said it will most likely include Miami, Allen, Franklin, Anderson, Linn, Bourbon, Woodson, Coffey and Osage counties. She said the committees in Miami and Allen counties were already doing very well with the recovery.

"They're right where they should be," she said.

Allen County's committee is called HONOR, an acronym for Helping Our Neighbors Onward to Recovering. The Rev. Trudy Kenyon Anderson works closely with HONOR and said the committee expected to handle 80 to 100 cases.

More than 300 people registered with FEMA by September.

"We're training case managers now to be able to assess what resources those families can access," said Anderson, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Iola.

Anderson's church has been involved with the flood response since the beginning, when it helped organize volunteers to staff a local Laundromat and wash clothes for affected families. The Laundromat also served as a food and supply distribution point for the American Red Cross - and unexpectedly as a bit of a counseling center.

"It wasn't just the laundering that was a wonderful ministry, but also the ears there for people to tell their story," she said. "Then people knew they were not just dealing with the loss alone."

Wesley United Methodist Church members also helped distribute flood buckets donated by the United Methodist Committee for Relief. Anderson said the support from local, regional and national organizations was uplifting.

She said a variety of groups were members of HONOR, including Mormons, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans as well as federal, state and local government agencies.

"It's nice to see the different arms of a community coming together and embracing one another," Anderson said. "We're figuring out how we're going to wrap our arms around the ones in the community that have been displaced or lost so much. We're coming together to see how we can share resources."

Anderson said HONOR planned to remain active after the flood recovery was complete in order to be ready for future disasters. The unity shown after July's flood will continue, she said.

"You always hear people talking about how the community unites in the face of disaster, and these kinds of things really solidify that," Anderson said.

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BreakPointe Community Church Osawatomie Project

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