Officials from Lutheran Disaster Response, the relief arm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, visited several homes in Sayre and Athens Tuesday that continue to be rebuilt following last September's flood.

The Rev. Joseph Chu, who was recently hired as LDR's nationwide associate program director, traveled to the Valley from Chicago for a tour of the area, joined by regional LDR officials and members of the Valley Relief Council, which has coordinated visits from LDR teams and other faith-based volunteer groups.

The group toured several residences in various stages of construction Tuesday, from a house on Garden Street in Sayre in the beginning stages of construction to another on Maple Street in Athens that has been completed.

Chu said the tour familiarized him with the area's existing flood damage as well as what has been completed thus far. He brought a camera along with him, but said he took few pictures. "I was wrapped up by the stories of the people," he said.

Chu and Dennis Steffy, a construction manager with LDR, both stressed the importance of skilled volunteers. Most of the light-duty construction work is finished, but highly skilled workers, including electricians, plumbers and carpenters, are harder to come by, Steffy said.

Chu said he may be able to utilize the group's "mission builders," a group of people that, literally, "build congregations from the ground up."

Generally, the skilled laborers usually construct or remodel church buildings. The groups stay in the area for months, stay in campers and recreational vehicles and integrate with the church communities there, Chu said. However, the groups can also be used for other projects, including flood relief, he said.

The lack of skilled volunteers "is holding us up from getting people out of FEMA housing and holding us up from getting people back into their homes," Chu said.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: