GA Spring flood work continues

BY SUSAN KIM | ALBANY, GA | September 10, 1998

When Joan Walker moved to Albany, GA 10 years ago, she lived in her car. Soon she got a job registering outpatients at a local hospital and was able to save enough to rent a house for herself and her teenage daughter. Later, she was able to purchase the 3-bedroom home.

But in July 1994, a major flood hit Albany with little advance warning. Joan got a phone call at work: she had lost everything in a disaster dubbed by local residents and national media "The Hundred Year Flood" -- or even "The 500-Year Flood." Nearly 300 Albany residents lost their homes.

With help from the United Methodist Flood Relief Center, the American Red Cross, as well as federal and state aid, Joan struggled to rebuild her home and her life.

But in March, Albany flooded again. "This time they told us we had 24 hours to get everything out," said Joan. "I was able to move a lot of personal belongings, but some furniture I couldn't get."

Joan packed her essentials, then went to help her neighbors. While she was gone, the rest of her furniture was stolen. "I just cried and cried," she said. "Then the phone rang and it was Kaye Voth from the Flood Relief Center. She has been a Godsend for me. I just couldn't have made it without her."

The 1998 "Hundred Year Flood" destoyed more than 20 homes; some, like Joan's, had been devastated four years ago.

"I can't say too much about the Flood Relief Center," said Joan, a member of McAfee Grove Baptist Church. "They grabbed me by the hand. They provided the building materials and experience, and I'm going to be able to move back into my house within the next four weeks."

Flood survivor Bessie Reese is already back in her house, also largely due to assistance from the Flood Relief Center. "I lost everything in 1994," she said. "I had moved back in for only 17 months. I was watching TV, and they said if you were flooded in '94 there was a chance you could be hit again."

Bessie's insurance covered only the carpeting in her 2-bedroom house. Volunteers from the Flood Relief Center did the rest. "They replaced ruined sheet rock and so much more," Bessie said.

When she was ready to move back in, she had a heart attack and was hospitalized for 12 days. Her doctor worries that stress from the flood experience may have triggered it.

"I simply couldn't help rebuild my home," said Bessie, a member of Union Baptist Church. "This was done out of love."

Joan and Bessie are only two of many Albany residents who lost everything twice in the misnamed "Hundred Year Flood." They are also among many who thank the United Methodist Flood Relief Center, Mallory Baptist Association, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Albany Clean Community Commission, and scores of local churches for volunteering to help them rebuild and go on with their lives. Though federal and state aid poured into the community, many families simply couldn't get back on their feet.

Kaye Voth, director of the United Methodist Flood Relief Center, a consortium of faith-based organizations, said that, when the March 1998 flood struck, the center had been shut down for only five months. The four-person staff was still completing the last of the paperwork for their extensive recovery effort from 1994.

"We were fortunate in that we still had a very active volunteer list. It was a lot easier to spring into action this time around."

Bonnie Jefferson, administrative assistant at the center, agreed that their past experience helped them respond quickly. "In 1994, at first we all stood around for awhile and wrung our hands," she said. "But the more people you have trained and prepared, the quicker you can respond."

In 1994, there were 11,000 people displaced because of the flood and nearly 1,200 homes were damaged. The response organization helped repair more than 300 homes.

Coordinating fast action from volunteers is what the Flood Relief Center does best. Since the 1998 flood, not a week has gone by without a volunteer work team -- from Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina -- traveling to Albany to lend a hand.

Wade Lowder, a builder, came to Albany last week with a volunteer team from Christ United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C. On their first day, which started at 8 a.m., they reframed the floors, replaced insulation and sheet rock, painted, and installed new trim and baseboards in an uninsured home.

"I've been volunteering on work teams for more than five years now," said Wade. "I'm in business for myself so I just take the time off because others need help. And part of our job is talking to and supporting people who have lost everything. They just need someone to listen. That's just as important as driving a nail."

Nelson Reeder, a dairy farmer from Benvola United Methodist Church in Sharpsburg, Md., has also served on volunteer teams in the past, but Albany is the farthest he has traveled. "I've been wanting to do something like this," he said. "We are busy and I love it."

The Flood Center also developed an "Adopt-a-Family" program. Groups, individuals, churches, and organizations assist a family in their recovery. Sponsors may help with rebuilding, contribute funds for building materials and supplies, purchase furniture, and offer spiritual support for flood survivors.

The Mallory Baptist Association has also been actively helping Albany residents recover their homes and their lives. Charles Freeman, rebuild director, said that just because the 1998 flood received less publicity didn't make it less severe for many Albany dwellers. "People were still displaced," he said. "People still lost everything."

Posted September 10, 1998

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