President declares IN flood disaster

Hundreds of homes damaged; 1,000 displaced; recovery plans formulated.

BY BOND BRUNGARD | DELPHI, IN | January 20, 2008

This stack of ruined furniture was piled outside a home near Lake Freeman after January flooding damaged the home and its contents.
Credit: Dan Gangler

Nearly a month after what one weather observer called a "more than 100-year flood" hit northern Indiana river communities, as many as 1,000 residents of flood-damaged homes are still waiting to return home.

On Wednesday President George W Bush issued a disaster declaration for nine Indiana Counties. The declaration covers Carroll, Cass, Elkhart, Fulton, Jasper, Marshall, Pulaski, Tippecanoe, and White counties.

According to official damage assessments, 800 homes were damaged and as many as 400 were destroyed in the early January flooding. And as the high water has dropped, local volunteer organizations are planning how they can help those affected.

"We're just getting our feet underneath us," said the Rev. Todd Ladd, pastor of Delphi United Methodist Church in Carroll County. Ladd is a coordinator of volunteer teams, and he said a determination must now be made to help those with the greatest needs.

"We're trying to commit ourselves to people who are stuck and don't know what to do next," he said.

Ladd expects the initial process to take about three weeks and said he hopes long term recovery committees will be formed within the next 30 days.

The Rev. Bill McLean, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Delphi, expects the overall recovery to go on through the year, but the initial outpouring of help from groups and individuals in the community, he said, has gotten the process off to a good start.

"The response has been incredible," he said.

McLean's church has been helping the community with its Deacon's Closet, which passes out free clothing.

Prior to the flood, it was open a few hours a month to help those in need. But after the flood struck, the closet has been open daily to help those needing some of the basics.

"We've been open eight hours a day," he said.

In addition to the Deacon's Closet, the church was planning to open a shelter last week, but needs required by the flooding pushed the opening up a couple of days.

"We kind of moved that up unexpectedly when the flood hit," said McLean.

So far, the shelter has helped five people over a three-day period.

"People have stayed with family," he said.

And since the flooding happened so close to the holidays, the high water also washed away some of the Christmas excitement that children waited for all year.

"It was so close to Christmas," said McLean, "and a lot of kids lost their Christmas presents."

The church has worked with the Red Cross and will prepare meals when needed and will remain ready for the long-term recovery.

"We tell people," said McLean, "we were here before the flood, and we'll be here after the flood."

The American Red Cross said Saturday it is nearly complete with the damage assessment in Carroll, White and Jasper Counties, although about 100 homes were still unreachable Saturday morning.

So far officials said, 184 homes have been destroyed and another 293 suffered major damage. Nearly 400 other homes suffered minor damage bringing the total homes estimated to have been impacted to nearly 900. There are currently no estimates of the number of people who have been impacted. A number of the homes were not covered by flood insurance and some of the residents were renters.

It rained heavily in December, and then a New Year's storm brought eight inches of snow. The then frozen ground unfortunately served as the perfect solid, slippery stage for the 50 degree-temperatures and the heavy rains that followed the heavy snow a week later.

Three people died in what's being referred to as flooding exceeding a once in a 100-year disaster.

In communities like Delphi, Monticello and Remington, calls will go out for volunteers to help those affected by the flooding. Family members not affected by the high water will be assisting those in need, but there may be others without such help.

"A lot of these people don't have a place to migrate to," said Gary Peterson, coordinator of disaster response for Northern Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Remington has many trailer homes affected by the flooding, Peterson added. And these residents will especially need help with their housing needs because many probably didn't have flood insurance, which he said, is probably unaffordable for many.

And he expects others with limited family outreach such the elderly or single mothers to seek help.

"There's a need for assistance," he added.

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