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Irene response teams begin work

Millions of people impacted, storm damages expected to reach $7 billion

BALTIMORE | August 29, 2011

As the remnants of Hurricane Irene crossed into Canada Sunday night disaster response organizations were already assisting survivors and beginning the assessments that will be needed to help rebuild the lives of the disaster’s survivors.

While the hurricane’s strength was not as intense as had once been feared, it left a substantial path of devastation from the Virgin Islands to Maine and when all of the damage is tallied, it may be one of the 10 most costliest disasters in history.

At least four million customers in states all along the Atlantic seaboard were still without power Sunday night and rivers were still flooding in New England communities.

So far more than 20 deaths have been attributed to the storm, but officials were concerned that number might rise due to the extensive flooding triggered by Irene.

Across the Eastern Seaboard, federal assessment teams and faith-based relief groups began to spread out across affected areas to begin the recovery process.

Among the faith-based organizations beginning to help survivors is the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).

Bill Adams, CRWRC’s Director of Disaster Response Services, said representatives were being sent to North Carolina where Irene first made landfall in the continental U.S.

“Disaster response representatives will be arriving in Hyde County and Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, to meet with local officials, churches, and response partners, survey damage, and determine next steps,” Adams said. “A rapid response team is being readied for deployment to the areas that are most in need.”

When it first hit North Carolina late Friday, Irene was still a Category 1 storm packing winds in excess of 80 mph. It dropped more than a foot of rain across most the coastal areas of the state, causing widespread flooding and power outages.

Irene was not the first hurricane to bring CRWRC to North Carolina. Adams noted volunteers provided long-term assistance to Hyde County residents impacted by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

“We have a commitment to the many families that we became acquainted with during the Hurricane Isabel recovery process,” he said. “We plan to check in on their well-being as soon as possible. In addition, our advance teams will check in with Christian Reformed congregations in New Jersey, as well as in North Carolina and other affected states.”

In addition to national response organizations, regionally-based organizations have also been active in the early response phase and are planning for the long-term.

Working with the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the Greater New Jersey (Conference) United Methodist Disaster Response was identifying volunteers were being mobilized to help rebuild homes and lives.

New Jersey Vice-Coordinator of Disaster Response C.J. Caufield said clean-up kits and trained volunteers were ready to begin the recovery process as soon as the “all-clear” was given.

“We have 11 trained early response team individuals in the state currently. We now have three UMCOR certified ERT trainers who will be working with partners to train ERTs on safety and certify volunteers to help with debris removal, muck-out clean-up, general clean-up, providing a compassionate presence, and helping our neighbors rebuild their lives and dreams,” Caufield said. “We have many United Methodist volunteers and the number is growing as we prepare to respond. We will be doing some ‘just in time’ training over the next several weeks, training and certifying ERTs and other volunteers in safety and sharing the burdens of others.”

The regional conference also established a special Webpage for Hurricane Irene, providing information to help local residents and New Jersey Methodist clergy respond to the storm.

In a letter to all New Jersey United Methodists, Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar urged parishioners to stay safe and be prepared to reach out to fellow storm victims.

“The Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27:14-44) records the time when the Apostle Paul brought calm to those in fear of a Hurricane. Paul said, ‘But now I urge you to keep up your courage,” Devadhar reminded parishioners. “In times like these we must support one another in prayer and be supportive of one another.”

New Jersey was one of the areas hardest hit by Irene, with widespread flooding and power out for an estimated 650,000 residents. During a midday press conference, Gov. Chris Christie urged residents to not venture into dangerous areas once the storm had passed, and warned that flooding would continue to be a problem.

Christie said more than 100 dams in the state were being monitored for overflows and potential breaches. He said one downstream town, High Bridge, had been evacuated as a precaution.

More than 15,000 people were in shelters around the state and about 3,000 people had been evacuated from 25 medical facilities, including two hospitals, prior to Irene hitting New Jersey.

Along the Jersey shore, Atlantic City recorded 4.56 inches of rain as of early Sunday, while 6.1 inches fell inland at Windsor, a suburb of Trenton.

Wind in the Ocean County community of Tuckerton hit 69 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members were also mobilizing to provide relief and recovery assistance to storm victims across the Eastern Seaboard.

Working in concert with FEMA, the American Red Cross, and state and local authorities, the Corporation for National and Community Service parent organization for AmeriCorps and Senior Corps deployed relief workers to Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

Most of the initial Hurricane Irene deployments were made through the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a residential, team-based program that engages 18-24 year-olds in 10 months of full-time, intensive national service. Since 2000, NCCC members from across the country have served more than 4.5 million hours on over 1,600 disaster service projects.

Assistance being provided by AmeriCorps included:

Delaware: 32 AmeriCorps NCCC members assisting the American Red Cross Delmarva Chapter in the operation of seven shelters throughout Delaware.

Maryland: Six AmeriCorps NCCC members partnered with the American Red Cross to open a shelter in Talbot County.

New Jersey: 33 AmeriCorps NCCC members are supporting shelter operations throughout New Jersey.

New Hampshire: On Monday, 24 AmeriCorps NCCC members will deploy to New Hampshire. Their initial tasks are to support FEMA in logistics, outreach, and damage assessments.

Senior Corps assistance programs included:

Rhode Island: A team of RSVP volunteers were operating or supporting sheltering operations in Narragansett; Pawtucket and Central Falls, and RSVP volunteers and Foster Grandparents are supporting sheltering operations in Bristol and East Providence.

Agency officials stressed they were working closely with FEMA and other agencies to determine the most appropriate deployments for additional national service participants. The agency has contacted other AmeriCorps grantee programs with expertise in disaster response and placed them on standby for potential deployment.

By late Sunday, a much-weakened Irene was making its way across upper New England and into Canada, still bringing what was described as “massive” amounts of rainfall and triggering extensive flooding.

As the storm system crossed Connecticut, heavy rainfall caused the collapse of several buildings, including two homes in Fairfield, as well as widespread flooding. More than 40 water rescues were reported in Bristol, and the mayor of Bridgeport imposed an 8 p.m. curfew for the city.

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New Jersey Conference Hurricane Irene Page

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