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Hints of hope reach NC


NORTH CAROLINA (Sept. 22, 1999) -- Thousands of people in North Carolina wish they could just go home and start cleaning up. But they're still waiting for the water to go down below their roofs.

Wilson is one of the lucky few towns. With hundreds of homes flooded and a major cleanup ahead, it's in good

shape compared to Greenville, Kinston, and Tarboro, where the water still laps at the rooftops.

Wilson is at least fortunate it can begin recovering from Hurricane Floyd, which officials say flooded some 30,000 to 50,000 North Carolina homes. But with details of Floyd's overall destruction limited to rough estimates due to high water and inaccessible disaster sites, disaster relief officials must wait to get a clear handle on initiating a recovery that could take up to five years.

In Wilson, the city of 38,000 is pulling together as hints of relief and recovery efforts are apparent. After Sunday services, the Rev. Keith H. Dey, pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church (ELCA) drove around town and saw several people helping flood survivors pull waterlogged furniture and clothing from homes.

"It's been a lot of little saints doing the tiniest acts of kindness," he said. "One of my members helping a flood victim asked her, 'What do you need most right now?' and she said, 'I need a toothbrush.'"

The city's department of social services met this week with local disaster relief and volunteer groups to identify resources and try to eliminate duplication of services. Several churches formed small relief groups that remove trees or clean homes, Dey said, while the American Red Cross and Salvation Army responded quickly with food and shelter. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) feeding unit has been deemed "Wilson's largest restaurant," added Dey, noting the thousands of meals served since last week.

"There is a great outpouring from all over," he said. "We're hearing from other communities to see what we can do" in terms of disaster relief and recovery.

Charlie Moeller wishes every flooded community in eastern North Carolina were like Wilson. At least that would give some semblance of recovery. But the Church World Service disaster relief facilitator instead waits for the water to recede.

"It's so hard to move far ahead with recovery until you get into some of these areas," he said.

Finding recovery center sites in local communities presents a challenge, said Moeller, because ideal locations are under water or in use by other entities. Flooding could push Floyd's destruction beyond 1996's Hurricane Fran, where wind caused most of the damage. At least with Fran, he added, assessment teams moved quickly into the disaster area.

Flooding and assessment delays prevent volunteer teams from entering the state, noted Dennis Levin, executive director of North

Carolina Interfaith Disaster Response (NCIDR). His organization and other disaster relief groups are inundated with calls to help, but it's not feasible to send in work crews.

"I have people who want to send teams in and it's really too early," he said. Compounding the situation is the potential health crisis that means volunteer likely will need up-to-date inoculations. Levin also fears receding waters will reveal a rising death toll in communities now under water. "We need to make sure before the teams come in that they're well-prepared. We want people ready to come into a severe situation."

To help organize the teams, IDRNC has a form on its Web site where volunteers can register their group. There won't be a shortage of need, Levin predicts. He estimates recovery in some areas could take up to five years.

NCIDR is providing disaster recovery training for existing or forming interfaith organizations on Oct. 14 in Ayden. New interfaith groups partnering with NCIDR can receive 501(c) (3) nonprofit status. It also is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to train volunteers to help people fill out federal assistance forms.

A vast majority of flood survivors didn't carry flood insurance, said Levin, and the resulting recovery could see bankruptcies and domestic issues rise. "A lot of folks are going to fall through the cracks on this one. The burden

is going to fall very heavily on the property owner," he said. "People will be looking for a good solution, and there won't be any good ones out there."

Posted Sept. 22, 1999

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