Volunteers begin recovery in NC

Despite limited funds, responders plan rebuilding efforts following tropical storm flooding

BY JOHN PAPE | WILMINGTON, NC | November 9, 2010

Volunteers repair the flooring in a home damaged by flood waters.
Credit: NC Baptist Convention

More than a month after the remnants of short-lived Tropical Storm Nicole brought record rainfall and flooding to eastern North Carolina, faith-based organizations are continuing to help flood victims recover.

The North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina are continuing to provide work crews to repair storm-related damage to homes throughout the region.

Craig Parker, who is in charge of the United Methodist Church’s relief teams in the Elizabeth City District, said first priority is being given to uninsured homeowners, but there are also a number of underinsured people relief teams are helping.

“We have information from area pastors of just over two dozen homes that we need to help make repairs on. Most of them are people who were not insured, but some are people who were severely underinsured and sustained heavy damage to their homes,” Parker said. “For the underinsured folks, we are going to try and provide the labor they need and they can use what insurance money they received to purchase the materials.”

In the case of the uninsured, churches will work with area suppliers to purchase the materials, but Parker stressed available funding is limited.

“It’s a tough economy right now and money is tight. We’re just going to have to stretch our dollars as far as possible so we can help as many people as we can,” he said. “The national news media covered the flooding at first, but now they’ve moved on, so donations have slowed down.”

On the bright side, Parker said the money already received allowed the teams to begin work this week a week earlier than they had anticipated.

Five teams are currently signed up to work in the Elizabeth City District, but Parker expects more volunteers to step forward now that the work schedule is firming up.

Once the volunteer teams move into the area, they will work as long as their personal schedules permit and then another team will take over. Some may work only a day or two, while others may spend more than a week at a work site, Parker said.

“As soon as one team finishes, another will start right where the earlier one left off,” Parker said. “We even have some teams that specialize in a particular area of construction like doing floors or dry wall.”

While working in the affected areas, teams will be housed in the fellowship hall of a local Methodist Church. They will have access to a full kitchen area, and a mobile shower unit on a trailer be brought to the site for crews to use.

All teams are told to be “self-sufficient” and prepared to cook their own meals; however, local church members frequently come in to cook for the workers.

“They’re very supportive and help our teams in any way they can,” Parker said.

He also said since the area is “still drying out,” he expects the list of people needing help to grow, particularly now that FEMA has completed its assessment.

“We started with a list of eight homes; that’s now up to 25. I think some people were kind of keeping to themselves and waiting to see if FEMA would announce a buy-out in some areas,” Parker said. “Now it looks like there won’t be a buy-out, people are deciding on what they’ll do.”

Parker noted some of the homes impacted by the most recent flood were also swamped during Hurricane Floyd 11 years ago and many residents were hoping for a buy-out.

“They said Floyd was a 100-year flood, but now just 11 years later they’ve been hit by another 100-year flood. Many don’t want to rebuild and risk getting flooded again,” he said. “They can’t sell to anyone but FEMA because it’s in a flood-prone area, but FEMA hasn’t announced a buy-out.”

Many residents flooded this time are still paying off FEMA loans they used to rebuild after Hurricane Floyd.

Parker said he hoped renewed media focus on the recovery in North Carolina would spur additional assistance. He compared it to the recovery effort following the earthquake in Haiti.

“I was part of the relief effort in Haiti. The first two planes were full (of volunteers); the next time, it wasn’t as full,” he recalled. “As it moved deeper into the recovery phase, fewer people were volunteering.”

In addition to Parker’s recovery teams in the Elizabeth City District, the North Carolina Methodists have a similar relief operation working in the Greenville District coordinated by Cliff Harvell. No information on the number of teams mobilizing or the number of homes to be repaired in that district was immediately available.

The North Carolina Baptist Convention Men and Women Disaster Relief teams have also been active in the recovery efforts. Volunteers have assisted victims Bertie, Craven, Hertford, Jones and other counties.

Baptist relief workers have, so far, completed 117 jobs in 858 volunteer days. A volunteer day is defined as one volunteer working one day.

Team members provided such assistance as disaster relief administration, assessment, chaplaincy, childcare, feeding and showers.

They also assisted with “mudout and tearout” work in damaged homes, according to Gaylon Moss, disaster relief director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

The flooding relief work was the first deployment for the North Carolina Baptist Men Recovery Unit.

FEMA continues to operate three disaster recovery centers within the affected areas. In Bertie County, the FEMA center is located at the Bertie County Council on Aging Gym. In Craven County, the center is located at 41 Craven Street and in Onslow County, the center is at the Onslow County Emergency Management Center.

On Oct. 14, President Barack Obama declared Bertie, Beaufort, Craven, Hertford, Tyrrell and Onslow counties as major disaster areas as a result of the flooding, clearing the way for federal aid. North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue had requested a disaster declaration for the six counties.

More than 420 homes in the disaster area were badly damaged by the storm, including nearly 60 that were completely destroyed, according state emergency management reports. FEMA said residents in the six-county disaster area could apply for low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Homeowners are eligible to apply for up to $240,000 to repair or replace their homes or to replace certain personal belongings. Renters can apply for loans up to $40,000.

FEMA has announced no buy-out efforts at this point.

Additionally, the state said more than 80 businesses were also badly damaged by the flooding.

As many as 19 North Carolina counties had requested a declaration for federal and state aid. Those counties included Beaufort, Bertie, Brunswick, Carteret, Chowan, Columbus, Craven, Duplin, Gates, Hertford, Hyde, Jones, Martin, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington.

The massive rainfall and flooding was triggered by moisture pushed north by remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole colliding with a stationary front. The storm system dumped between five and 24 inches of rain throughout much of the eastern part of the state. While the initial rains resulted in extensive street and road flooding, subsequent rises on the Cape Fear, Lumber, Trent, Neuse and Dan rivers caused much of the damage.

Eight storm-related deaths were reported in North Carolina, all the result of vehicle crashes.

During the height of the flooding, the American Red Cross opened as many as 20 shelters and provided 145 overnight stays. Additionally, the relief agency distributed more than 600 cleanup kits, served 2,223 meals and 4,576 snacks. It also facilitated 150 mental and physical health consultations.

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