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Volunteers respond to Isaac damage

Disaster response organizations assist storm survivors, plan long term aid

September 18, 2012

In the wake of Hurricane Isaac, which slammed into the northern Gulf of Mexico coast in August leaving behind flooding and wind damage, volunteers have been helping clean up and to start the work of making sure assistance is in place for long term recovery.

Lutheran Disaster Relief (LDR) is just one of a number of organizations that are coordinating volunteers to repair homes in Lousiana and Mississippi. Jessica Vermilya, State Director for LDR said the workers are cleaning up debris and doing repairs that will allow residents to get back into their homes as soon as possible. They are not rebuilding homes that were completely destroyed, but they are focused on the homes that can be fixed quickly to allow people to get back to their lives as they were before the storm.

Volunteers with the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) Early Response Team from Lancaster County, PA, helped residents muck-out homes in Plaquemines Parish in southern Louisiana. The team was sponsored by MDS Storm Aid.

One of the hardest hit areas in the Gulf region is the area near Houma, LA, where residents are still recovering from the flooding caused by Hurricane Rita in 2005. Dozens of homes barely rebuilt and some just nearing completion were damaged once again.

Lutheran Disaster Relief and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance have both sent volunteers to that area to continue rebuilding efforts.

Florence Coppola Executive for National Disaster Ministries for the United Church of Christ (UCC) said UCC volunteers are focused on the Jackson, MS area.

“We are still in that area clearing out homes and helping people with personal supplies,” she said. “We are working to get everyone ready to move on.”

UCC is also working with Back Bay Mission, a program that helps homeless people in the face of disasters. Coppola said they provided the mission with financial support to purchase tents, sleeping bags and personal items for those whose meager possessions were washed away by the hurricane.

In Baker and Gonzales, LA, volunteers from Brethren Disaster Ministries are doing what they can to help children who were affected by the storm. Often children are not given the individualized attention they need as volunteers come in to help the parents work through rebuilding and through the programs of long term relief.

Children's Disaster Services (CDS), a program of Brethren Disaster Ministries sent a dozen volunteers to southern Louisiana.

Project manager Jan Thompson said they wrapped up their work quickly as the Red Cross shelters where they were serving the kids closed in the New Orleans area.

“We are very grateful for the service of our volunteers,” she said.

The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana and through its Episcopal Community Services of Louisiana (ECS), is working with Episcopal Relief & Development to provide food vouchers, gas cards, school supplies, medical care and other assistance to families who were affected by the storm. In addition, St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in New Orleans has deployed a mobile medical van to the towns of LaPlace and Jean Lafitte. The mobile unit coordinates care with Tulane University Hospital and other area medical providers.

“The Diocese of Louisiana, unfortunately, has become very experienced with assessing and responding to community needs following disasters over the years,” said Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Program Manager for US Disaster Preparedness and Response. “The ministries that take place in congregations around the diocese are able to assess needs among vulnerable people."

The Week of Compassion, has also provided grants to families affected by flooding and has scheduled a pastoral visit in partnership with Disciples Volunteering and Great River Region staff. Week of Compassion is also working with other partners of the Emergency Response Program of Church World Service to plan longterm recovery in the northern Gulf Coast region.

--Vicki Barnes contributed to this story.

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