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Disaster pulls Va. city together

BY SUSAN KIM | Hampton, VA | October 10, 1999

But first, residents in Hampton, Va., and in multiple counties in North Carolina are in the throes of

recovery after sustaining damages from Hurricane Dennis' lengthy stall and slow crawl up the coastline

last week.

In Hampton, which was declared a federal disaster area Thursday, more than 1,000 residents were

displaced by a tornado -- a spin-off from Dennis -- that grazed one apartment building, nearly demolished

another, and heavily damaged an assisted living center.

"We've got everybody back in their residence, or into some stable temporary living situation," said Eric

Wooster, Hampton's emergency coordinator. The city's Department of Codes and Compliance has

completed inspections and damage assessments on the buildings.

Wooster said he was grateful for the role that the faith-based community played in responding to the

tornado, particularly the Ivy Memorial Baptist Church, which opened its doors to house elderly residents

and other displaced people. The church also provided a resting place and food for volunteer firefighters,

police, and emergency service personnel. The American Red Cross was able to set up services there as


"That church was a major player in the success of our response operation," Wooster said. "Also, the local

restaurants donated food, and everybody pulled together. I think there is a wonderful spirit of


But, Wooster said, Hampton residents aren't yet breathing a sigh of relief. "We're already looking at what

to do with Floyd," he said. "You tend to see a lot of tornadoes spinning off of storm systems like this."

In North Carolina, residents are also mopping up - while watching the forecast. The Federal Emergency

Management Agency (FEMA) authorized disaster aid for six North Carolina counties -- Beaufort, Carteret,

Craven, Dare, Hyde, and Pamlico -- on Wednesday. More than 350 homes were flooded by Dennis, first as

a hurricane then as a tropical storm. Homes in Pamlico Sound and Cedar Island were hit hardest, some left

with more than three feet of water in them after a nine-foot storm surge. Response organizations report,

however, that most damaged homes are vacation or rental properties, and that most homeowners have


In Florida -- which Dennis spared completely -- residents are "watching, waiting, and praying," said Jody

Hill, executive director of Florida Interfaiths Networking in Disaster (FIND). "We were more than relieved

to miss Dennis. It could have been much worse for the entire country."

But has that 'near miss' made people more apathetic toward preparations for the next storm? "There's no

question that's a concern, especially if we end up having to evacuate a large portion of the population," said

Hill. "One near miss is sometimes enough for people to think you're crying wolf."

The majority of the 5,000 people stranded on North Carolina's Outer Banks last week during Hurricane

Dennis were there, for example, because they hadn't heeded evacuation orders, she said. "I can remember

one couple who stayed on their sailboat during Hurricane Georges last year."

The couple was miraculously unscathed, but Hill said emergency response workers and faith-based groups

alike are over-taxed when they must accommodate "a population that refuses to be cooperative" by

obeying evacuation orders. "Part of living in a coastal community means that you take the responsibility to

evacuate when told to do so."

But this year Hill said she thinks people are not generally apathetic, partly because of being hit by

Hurricane Georges and multiple wildfires last year. "At least right now there is a great deal of awareness

and a high level of concern," she said. "This has been a good year for faith-based leaders to learn more

about what their role might be."

Concern about hurricane -- and other disaster -- preparedness might be heightened for another reason as

well: the approach of the year 2000 rollover, or Y2K. Disaster response groups of all kinds report high

attendance at seminars and local discussions, with attendees claiming that Y2K has motivated them to be

prepared for other disasters as well.

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