Volunteers sought in Iowa disaster relief

BY P.J. HELLER | IOWA | July 12, 1998

IOWA (July 12, 1998) -- Iowa residents, ravaged by tornadoes, high winds and flooding during May

and June, continued to clean up during July but more volunteers were being

sought to help the elderly and disabled.

"We need volunteers," said Jim Almquist, disaster response coordinator for

Lutheran Social Services, which is trying to assist the elderly and


He noted that in Polk County (Des Moines), "We have a little over 50

requests for help to clean up without much volunteer help."

Polk County is one of 30 counties statewide declared a federal disaster

area and eligible for disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management

Agency (FEMA).

Almquist said western Iowa has made substantial progress in cleanup efforts

but in Polk County, "we have the elderly and disabled who still don't have

their basements or houses cleaned up yet from the flood or backed up sewers

or a combination of both."

Almquist said several factors were contributing to the shortage of

volunteers. Among them was the fact that the tornadoes, severe weather and

flooding caused widespread damage throughout the state, not just in one or

two communities. The storms struck three separate times, hitting some areas

twice during a two-month period.

"Some parts (of the state) were hit really really hard and other parts

weren't hit so hard," he said. "So people are confused as to whether there

is a need to volunteer."

Coupled with that factor is the state's low unemployment rate -- less than 2

percent, he reported -- making it difficult for people to leave their jobs

and volunteer to assist in relief efforts.

To assist in those efforts, faith-based organizations including Luthern

Social Services, Church of Christ, United Methodists, Presbyterians and

Baptists, met July 8 to develop a statewide disaster relief strategy. That

strategy, which Almquist said he hoped would be implemented with the help

of state and federal agencies, involves placing outreach workers in western,

southwestern, central, northeastern and southeastern Iowa.

Their role will be to identify people hit hardest by the storms, help

them in contacting and working with FEMA, and assisting in any

reconstruction process.

"The faith community and the VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in

Disasters) community are working together to get it done," Almquist said.

"It's just phenomenal. The Church of Christ and the United Methodists just

stepped up to the plate and said, 'We're going to take part of that.'"

A statewide telephone number is also being created so residents will have

one place to call to contact an outreach worker, he said. Funding

for those outreach positions could come from a state job training program,

he added.

Almquist said he was also concerned about the impact the flooding would

have on farmers in the state. Preliminary damage estimates to farm crops

was placed at more than $20 million.

"We're particularly concerned about the farmers and the impact this is

going to have upon them and their ability to generate income for the rest

of the year," he said. "We could well be moving into another period of farm


He noted that in western Iowa, farmers have planted their corn crops three


"They'll have a reduced yield, there's no doubt about that," he said.

He estimated that one-third of the farmers did not have crop insurance and

that of the two-thirds who did, most did not have maximum coverage because

of the cost involved.

"It's just one more fixed cost they have to deal with," he said.

One area hit particularly hard by the storms was the rural southwestern

town of Colburg, where Almquist reported that all of the town's 58

residents were affected by flooding.

"There's not a house in that whole town that was not severely damaged by

the flood waters," he said.

Some of the residents there will have to decide whether to accept buyouts

for their homes from FEMA, he noted.

"They've got really big problems," he said. "I think they've got some

difficult decisions to make."

Lutheran Social Services has provided some financial aid to residents of

the town. A potluck was held recently at the Freemont Luthern Church in

nearby Nyman, giving Colburg residents "an opportunity to come together as

a group to express their thanks to everyone who has helped," Almquist said.

Posted July 12, 1998

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