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Illness haunts flooded IA homes

BY GEORGE PIPER | DES MOINES, Iowa | December 7, 1998

DES MOINES, Iowa (Dec. 7, 1998) -- You know things are bad when simply

visiting a previously-flooded home makes you sick.

That's what happened to Clarissa Finley, an outreach worker for Iowa

Interfaith Disaster Recovery Network (IIDRN), while working one of her

cases resulting from tornadoes and flooding in Iowa. Finley contracted a

respiratory infection from mold growing within the walls of a flooded

basement outside of Des Moines. The fungus remained months after the

initial cleanup,

and Finley helped the family acquire backup valves to keep the sewage from

seeping into the home.

Cases like those are spread throughout much of Iowa -- and that's part of

the challenge for IIDRN, as it covers a wide landscape while its funding

slowly dwindles.

The statewide disaster recovery organization formed in September and

collected some $200,000 from local churches and national faith-based

disaster relief agencies. More than 100 cases have been handled by IIDRN,

said co-chair Jim Almquist, a disaster response consultant for Lutheran

Social Services (LSS) in Iowa.

But he estimates another 500 pending claims

where people have holes in roofs, busted windows or crud in basements.

"We are rapidly running out of money," said Almquist, who is seeking

another $40,000 to keep the recovery going through April. "We

are finding some really bad situations out there."

Almquist recently had to start laying off staff members to save funding for

disaster survivors.

High winds and tornadoes struck southeastern Iowa in May and caused

scattered damage around small towns and rural areas. Then residents in the

southwest, southern and central Iowa faced flooding in June and July. The

latter disaster brought a disaster declaration from the Federal Emergency

Management Agency; the former did not.

INDRN is a cumulative effort of local interfaith organizations and churches

and has 12

people scouring the state to report and remedy unmet needs. Iowa's LSS

office is the administrative and fiscal agency for the organization, which

also received funding from the federal Job Training Partnership Act to hire

outreach workers.

Assistance grants ranging from $87 to $3,000 go mostly toward construction

costs, such as roofs, windows and siding.

"The people are just so appreciative. It's just overwhelming," he said.

"The church is stepping in and rekindling their faith."

In his search for additional funding, Almquist hopes to match donations

with local contributions from churches and civic organizations. This gives

the community ownership in the recovery, he explained, and stretches the

dollars farther.

Residents find themselves bearing the brunt of high repair bills in many

cases due to inadequate insurance or lack of federal disaster funds, said

Almquist, adding that the low income, elderly and disabled disaster

survivors are particularly affected. "Those are the ones that seem to get

hit all the time, and those are the ones that can least afford it," he


Finding enough volunteers is another dilemma. Mennonite Disaster Services

(MDS) and various regional and local organizations and churches aided the

recovery efforts thus far, Almquist said, but it hasn't been enough.

Households also report illnesses due to active molds when homes aren't

adequately cleaned. Almquist also fears some farmers may lose their

livelihood from the combination of storm damage and low commodity prices.

"In some cases, we're having a hard time reaching people because they have

given up because they feel nobody is going to help them," he said, noting

that IIDRN didn't reach some areas until November. "It takes us a while to

get the word out that we're available."

And that's where the outreach work becomes vital.

An associate Lutheran minister, Finley covers nine counties in central

Iowa. She began the outreach work with IIDRN after a friend recommended her

to Almquist.

In addition to grants, Finley and other outreach personnel direct people to

existing programs to meet needs. "We didn't just give them money. Sometimes

we tried to hook them up with assistance that was already there," she said.

"We're helping them with resources that they're not aware of." Finley also

connects her clients to a support group -- usually their church

-- so they have someone to talk to if other issues or problems arise.

For Finley, there's tragedy and triumph in each case.

One elderly woman whose basement flooded suffered a stroke during cleanup

and her husband used up their savings to hire someone to clean it. When

Finley contacted them, the couple virtually had no money to buy food.

In another case, an 80-year-old woman waited five months for an estimate on

her roof. Contractors didn't bother with the woman's situation, said

Finley, because they knew she couldn't pay for the work. The interfaith

stepped in and made up the difference and even helped to make sure

the work was done right.

"In every case it was like God had led us to them," she said.

It's been a rewarding experience for Finley, who beams with pride that

local churches are supporting the efforts with donations. IIDRN provides

the structure into which churches can channel their efforts.

"It proves that we as churches can meet those unmet needs and we have

plenty of people in our congregations who know what to do," Finley said.

Posted Dec. 7, 1998

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