GA flood recovery to last months

Response expected to take much of next year for survivors of fall flooding.

BY LARHONDA CRAIG | ATLANTA | November 27, 2009

Friends of Fenando Uribe help remove wet drywall and debris from his home in Austell, Georgia after rising waters drowned the home to the second level.
Credit: DNN/Zachary Hoffman

In just one night more than 20 inches of rain poured into the Atlanta metro area, causing what the U.S. Geological Survey calls a "once in 500 years flood." Altogether the devastating flood of Sept. 21 left 10 people dead and 17 Georgia counties were declared disaster areas. Disaster recovery efforts are expected to last well into next year.

“Just imagine losing everything you ever accumulated…pictures, valuables, keepsakes from your parents, ancestors etcetera. All of that just worthless now and piled up in your front yard. It’s something that's incomprehensible,” Lutheran Disaster Response Georgia Coordinator and Georgia State VOAD President, Bob Tribble said. “The creek that was once below the bridge, went about 30 feet above it, and over the street. In some places houses were completely submerged.”

Hannah, a freshman at Kennesaw State University, replays the catastrophic visuals in her head.

“I saw flooding all over the place. On one of the roads that I travel to go to school everyday the mud washed out from one of the roads so the whole road collapsed for like 20 yards. I saw a baseball field, and the dugout was full of water up to the roof.”

Not long after witnessing what officials called one of the country’s worst floods in the last century, Hannah decided to volunteer with MUST Ministries, one of more than a dozen local organizations that are now coordinating clean-up and recovery efforts for flood survivors.

According to FEMA, the flood left more than 150,000 cubic yards of debris, which was enough trash to fill more than 10,000 large dump trucks. And while nearly 60,000 cubic yards have been removed, Tribble says recovery is a long-term process.

“We’ve had thousands of homes that have been cleaned out. One of the things that people don’t realize is that when you have a flood you have homes that have to be dried, you have to get permits, you have to have people that can do electrical wiring, and you have to have a license. You then have to be able to coordinate all of this with the owner of the home.”

As of early November, $82 million of federal disaster aid has been provided to individuals, families and businesses for Georgia flood recovery. Of that, $31 million was in the form of low-interest loans to help homeowners repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. The other $51 million came in the form of FEMA grants given to families for personal property, temporary housing, and other serious disaster-related needs.

Outside of monetary aid, Tribble says a large part of the long-term recovery process will be recruiting volunteers who will can come in and help rebuild.

“We’re developing long term recovery groups (to organize future volunteer efforts),” Tribble said. He expects to have most volunteers come in January, February, and March, but there may be volunteer work still remaining to be done next summer.

“It sounds like it’s taking a lot of time when we talk about January, February, and March and that’s why we call it long term recovery. This all happened in a day or two, but it takes a while to get these houses back to together,” Tribble said.

So far FEMA reports that flood survivors have made more than 8,000 in-person visits to federal Disaster Recovery Centers in the disaster-designated counties.

“We’re used to tornadoes here that demolish your home or tear it up pretty well, but when you see floods, the house is still standing but everything in there needs to be taken out and replaced. When you see everything a family has accumulated over their lifetime is now a great big pile of garbage waiting to be hauled away it’s a profound sight,” Tribble said.

Right now Tribble says voluntary organizations are focused on getting displaced victims their basic needs.

“The basic need is getting people back to their homes. Some may have found temporary housing through family, FEMA housing grants, or maybe they have enough resources that they could find something temporary. It’s our effort to get these folks back in their homes as quickly as we can but back in safe, sound, and sanitary homes.”

Asked how people outside of Georgia can help with response efforts, “Go through the disaster response organization that is connected to your church synagogue or mosque.” Tribble advised. “If you coordinate your volunteer desire through an existing organization you can do a tremendous help to the (survivors) here, and you can do that no matter what state you’re in,” Tribble said.

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