It has been 10 months since Tropical Storm Lee wreaked havoc upon Tioga County and surrounding communities, and the recovery continues. While most have been able to repair their homes to a pre-flood condition, many remain in temporary housing, and others have had to rebuild or purchase in a new location.
In a report filed by the Tioga County Emergency Management Agency, there were 3,750 homes requiring inspection for damages following the flood. Of those homes, according to a January 2012 report, 3,218 residents applied for some sort of assistance, of which 2,609 were eligible for housing referral, and 1,395 were eligible for home repair; six were eligible for home replacement.
But these numbers, according to Dave Woodburn from Tioga Opportunities Inc., are not an actual reflection of where the county sits regarding homes that are still in need of repair, and those who remain displaced.
In order to come up with a more accurate number of the storm damage that remains, 10 months later, Tioga Opportunities Inc. entered into an agreement with World Renew, formerly Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CWRC), to do a comprehensive needs assessment.
This group, which is comprised of seven couples, arrived in Tioga County, N.Y. last week to begin this assessment, and is being referred to as the “Green Shirts,” indicative of the color of the shirts that residents will be able to identify them by as they canvas communities.
According to Woodburn, who serves as deputy director at Tioga Opportunities, the group will be canvassing residents over a two-week period. The group, he added, already sent email correspondence or letters to 2,000 residents whose addresses were made available by FEMA.
The hope of this assessment, according to Woodburn, is that Tioga Opportunities will be able to identify residents who have fallen through the cracks, and to gain a more accurate count on the homes that are unoccupied.
“NYSEG can give an idea of the service that has not been reconnected, but we are hoping for an actual count,” Woodburn added.
The seven couples from World Renew that arrived in Tioga County early last week traveled from areas all over the country, such as Washington, Utah and even Massachusetts. Project Renew is also working with the group, as well as local government groups such as Tioga Area Rural Partnership (TARP).
The couples arriving to do the assessment noted that it’s their way of making a contribution.
The CRWRC, which officially became known as World Renew in January, is a non-profit agency of the Christian Reformed Church in North America that ministers to people in need around the world with disaster response, development and justice.
World Renew engages in long-term community development in 80 of the world’s poorest countries, coordinates thousands of volunteers, influences social justice initiatives and builds community capacity with faith-based and government organizations.
With 2011 being dubbed as a year filled with disasters of epic proportion, the group’s volunteers have been assisting with stateside disasters more frequently.
Herm and Joan Fransen, who are leading the team currently assisting in Tioga County, are both retired, and traveled on funds they raised to assist. According to Herm, they were invited to the area.
“The word is getting out about the ‘Green Shirts,’” said Herm about the name they have affectionately acquired, “and about the good data we provide.”
Herm described how for two weeks they will be going door to door, canvassing the community and assessing needs. Once they are done, they will put the data in their computer, tabulate the numbers and turn the information over to the local organization, in this case, Tioga Opportunities.
Randy and Jan Bode, from Washington, also traveled to Tioga County, and noted that they have been volunteering now for three years.
According to Randy, they usually get called out once or twice a year. Previous assignments included the assessment of damages from tornadoes in northwest Alabama. The couple also worked in Cedar Rapids in 2010.
When asked why they do it, the couple stated that it’s a way for them to give back.
“We have helped our local community for many years,” Randy said, “and now we can continue our local efforts back home, and combine it with a few weeks of out-of-town volunteer work.”
Randy also noted that there seems to be a lot of storms happening. “Seems every year there are bad things happening, everywhere.”
Nancy and Les Kragt, a couple who traveled with the group from Grand Rapids, Mich., is in agreement.
The couple began volunteering in 2005, and went to Pensacola, Fla., subsequently ending up doing two to three years of audits when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast.
Now, with the Tioga County assessment under way, the Kragt’s noted that it’s their 11th assessment.
“We did Joplin, Missouri following the tornadoes, and then Beaufort, North Carolina following Hurricane Irene,” Les said. They have also traveled to Springfield, Mass., and did an assessment following the flooding in Iowa.
Regarding the flooding in Iowa in 2011, the Kragt’s recalled one interview in particular that has remained on their mind. An elderly woman in her 80s was living in a neighborhood that was inundated after a levee was opened. “The water consumed her entire neighborhood,” Les said.
They also talked of an assignment in Cobb County, Atlanta, Ga., in which an area that had undergone changes because of continual expansions to the airport flooded. “They had 23 inches of rain in 23 hours,” Les said, “so everything flooded.”
Talking further on this, Les noted that when areas undergo further development, it can have an affect on drainage and flooding in the areas that surround it.
But now, with clipboards in hand, and rolled up area maps that will lead the group through hard-hit areas in the county, the Kragt’s, like others in the group, will feel a sense of satisfaction, and will continue to feel grateful when they ready to return home.
“We are blessed,” Les said. “Then when we come, if we can help one, it’s a blessing.”