GA town waits for homes

BY SUSAN KIM | Camilla, GA | September 25, 2000

Their daughter was injured during the storm and her medical bills have been a

financial drain. Last week, as part of a volunteer effort coordinated through the Valentine Tornado

Interfaith Recovery Network, the family almost had a new home -- almost.

In what Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) dubbed a "framing frenzy," a 10-man crew set out to frame four

homes in four days last week. But just the volunteers were on their last day of framing, the remnants of

Tropical Storm Helene swept through Georgia, bringing heavy rain that halted their work on the Jackson's

house. The volunteer team -- many already off their professional construction jobs for a week -- were

forced to return home.

So the Jackson family -- and scores of other tornado survivors in this town of 6,000 -- are wondering when

they'll be able to go home. And the interfaith recovery network is wondering who will come back and

finish the job.

Bob Bender, owner of a framing and concrete business in Goshen, IN, took five of his best employees with

him to serve on the crew. "We would have pulled it off if it hadn't been for the rain. If only I could have

had six more hours," he said. "But it was a great week anyway."

Bender paid his employees for a 40-hour work week -- so Camilla tornado survivors got the skills of

professional framers for free.

Some 200 residences were destroyed when the "Valentine tornadoes" killed 19 people and injured more

than 100. It was the worst disaster in the town's history.

Fall is a typical "lag time" for volunteers, since children and youth are returning to school, said Jim Scott,

MDS project director. Plus, there is the lack of awareness that recovery is still going on more than seven

months after the tornado struck. "Not many people are aware we're working down here," said Scott.

"This was more than local congregations could handle," added his wife, Ann. The couple lives in Cedar

Springs, MI, and they will be in Camilla until Oct. 6. "Then we'll go home to take care of a few things," said

Ann. "But we're not saying we won't be back."

Bender's son, Lowell, who was also on the MDS volunteer crew, said that the devastation in Camilla

surprised him even though he had volunteered at other post-disaster sites before. "Last time I went

somewhere, people needed repairs. This time, I saw there was nothing left to repair. Everything was

wiped away."

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