NC residents still coping with flood

Volunteers work to help families rebuild after devastating fall floods

BY JOHN PAPE | RALEIGH, NC | December 25, 2010

"A lot of these people really donít have a lot of options. . . If they donít have a relative to stay with, theyíve got to live in their house regardless of what kind of condition itís in."

—Jacob James

Even as families across the nation paused to celebrate the holiday season, many residents in North Carolina are still struggling to recover from devastating floods earlier this year.

Hundreds of homes were damaged in late September when remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole brought record rainfall and flooding to much of eastern North Carolina.

Throughout much of the affect area, faith-based relief organizations continue to be in the forefront of the effort to help those in need.

Faith-based relief teams from the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, among others, are leading ongoing efforts to help families rebuild their lives.

With most of their focus on helping uninsured homeowners with limited funding, the United Methodists recently issued an appeal for assistance.

“Let us not forget the victims who have received little help.

There is an immediate need to assist scores of our brothers and sisters who continue to suffer as result of earlier floods,” the announcement said.

Church officials said they were aware of at least 50 homes “in immediate need of assistance” and $100,000 was needed to purchase building materials to repair those homes. Once the money for materials is raised, volunteer work teams will begin the construction phase.

Following the storms, 14 counties received federal disaster declarations. At that time, North Carolina United Methodists send out disaster response teams to provide immediate assistance. The conference also employed a case manager to help determine the recovery needs of homes damaged and destroyed by the flooding.

Craig Parker, who is in charge of the United Methodist Church’s relief teams in the Elizabeth City District, said his volunteers were “kind of in a holding pattern” until enough funds are available to continue to the repair work.

He also said his volunteers were partnering with area Baptist churches to assist more storm victims.

“Hopefully, after the holidays, we will be getting started. We have several teams ready to start, so hopefully this will be the end of the waiting processes,” Parker said.

Along with the United Methodist volunteers, relief teams from the North Carolina Baptist Men continue to be active in the recovery process.

Gaylon Moss, disaster relief director for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, said Baptist volunteers Ė much like their United Methodist counterparts Ė have moved into a long-term recovery process and are doing construction assessments.

Immediately after floodwaters receded, Baptist volunteers helped with “mudout and tearout” work in more than a 100 homes in some of the hardest-hit counties. Workers provided more than 1,000 volunteer days in those initial efforts.

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

The flooding relief effort also marked the inaugural deployment of the North Carolina Baptist Men Recovery Unit.

A number of individual churches have also organized work teams to help those in need.

Parishioners of the Westminster Presbyterian Church, in the heart of the hardest-hit area, organized multi-denominational teams to provide emergency repairs to make damaged homes as livable as possible following the flood.

“A lot of these people really don’t have a lot of options,” volunteer Jacob James said. “They can’t afford to rent a place temporarily; they can’t afford a hotel. If they don’t have a relative to stay with, they’ve got to live in their house regardless of what kind of condition it’s in.”

James recalled his team’s experience working with an elderly woman in a rural area of Bertie County.

“It was heart-wrenching; she was basically living on her back porch. She had an old chair she was sleeping in and a camp stove someone gave her to cook her food,” James said. “The only good thing was that the porch was screened or the mosquitoes would have carried her off.”

James said teams first focused on getting the bedroom livable.

“We tore out most of the sheetrock and replaced fixed the floor and made wiring repairs. At one point, a couple of our people went out and bought her a bed from a second-hand shop, some sheets and a couple of fans to keep her cool,” James said. “The next weekend, we worked on getting her kitchen in usable shape.”

James added that, although volunteers were initially scheduled to only work on weekends, a number of team members decided to work during some weekday evenings.

“For a bunch of semi-skilled construction workers, we got the place into pretty good shape. We gave her a working kitchen and bathroom and a bedroom and little den where she can watch TV or read,” he said. “Once her stove was working, she spent the whole time cooking for us, baking cookies and such. This is probably the only job I’ve ever done where I gained weight.”

James said he has “never felt as good” as when helping the woman, who he now counts as a person friend.

“My family and I went out on Thanksgiving, mostly just to make sure she was OK and had food. We ended up spending almost the whole day with her; it was an incredible blessing for us all,” he said. “For Christmas, we’re bringing her to church with us. I’m sure the whole congregation will make a big fuss over her. I know some have even bought some little gifts.”

The devastating flooding was triggered when moisture pushed north by remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole collided with a stationary front, dumping record amounts of rainfall across much of the eastern part of North Carolina. The storm system dumped up to 24 inches of rain on parts 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 long-term 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.

On Oct. 14, President Barack Obama declared Bertie, Beaufort, Craven, Hertford, Tyrrell and Onslow counties as major disaster areas, clearing the way for federal aid.

On Nov. 1, Gov. Bev Perdue announced that Camden, Martin, New Hanover and Washington counties had been added to the disaster declaration list.

As many as 19 North Carolina had requested a declaration for federal and state aid.

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.

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

According to the latest numbers released by the governor’s office, residents in eastern North Carolina had received more than $2.7 million in federal funds to help them recover. But much more is needed to help survivors recovery. More then 2,740 people registered with FEMA for state and federal assistance. More than 2,370 homes were inspected for damage by FEMA.

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