In for the long haul

TOWANDA – When disaster strikes – as it did in the spring and fall of 2011 with the first unnamed storm and then Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee – there is a big push of volunteers and services from local groups and individuals as well as agencies such as the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Volunteers pour in from across the country, even before the local area is ready to receive them and use them efficiently.

As time goes on, however, and especially when a new disaster strikes in another area, aid diminishes rapidly and volunteers turn elsewhere, often before a majority of the recovery work is completed.

Robyn D’Anna, Bradford County representative to the Bradford-Sullivan Long Term Recovery Coalition, said that is where the newly formed coalition steps in, to reassure and assist residents who still may be coping with damage from the storms that they have not been forgotten.

The coalition has been and still is hard at work to assist people still struggling after the 2011 flooding, especially from Lee, which was said to be “probably about the worst.”

While it may be hard to imagine, some families still have not been able to adequately fix up their homes.

Following these storms, 2,132 families in Bradford and Sullivan counties applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

In more than 30 cases that involved construction within the homes, work has been completed while the families lived in them or stayed with family or friends, mostly in the Athens/Sayre area, with assistance from the Valley Relief Council.

According to D’Anna, much of the repair work has included mold remediation and some sewage backup damage, cleanup and repair.

D’Anna said among her duties for the coalition is writing requests for proposals for projects.

She recently received a response from a company to inspect the homes needing work for mold and bacteria damage and, if built before 1978, for lead inspection, which is done by the county, she said.

The bid winning company also bids out the work to appropriate contractors, she said.

“The inspector looks at it, does the work write-up and sends a copy to me for my files, which includes an estimate,” she said. “I’m glad we’re there because we can take on the bigger issues with mold and bacteria.”

The Bradford County commissioners have awarded the total 2012 grant project funding – more than $203,000 – to Bradford County low- to moderate-income, single-family, owner-occupied housing rehabilitation to help homeowners still living in homes not yet restored from flood damage. A portion of funding from the special Community Development Block Grant-disaster recovery grant funding has been set aside for housing rehabilitation.

D’Anna said she is allowed to use any leftover grant funding from other years to pay for the inspections, leaving the $203,000 for just the contractors.

“Sullivan County also has someone who handles the same things in that county,” she said.

While any homeowner who sustained significant damage from Irene and Lee is welcome to apply, the coalition also has reached out to those with FEMA-verified damage to their structures, starting with those who are elderly or have low incomes or special needs.

So far, trained volunteers have made 800 such “call-outs” to homeowners in Bradford County and 150 to those in Sullivan.

At least 600 of those with whom connections were made said they either already were taken care of or able to address their own needs.

Many expressed surprise and gratitude that the volunteers cared enough to try to find out how they were doing.

As of early August, more than 100 families have been identified as needing assistance. Work on more than 60

of these dwellings has been completed.

Almost 800 of the FEMA-assisted families in Bradford County were in Athens and Sayre, while the others were spread throughout the county.

To date, members of the coalition have helped 11 individuals or families move back into their homes from FEMA trailers and are assisting this transition for the last homeowner in a FEMA trailer, who should be back home this month.

Now, 21 active cases are waiting for funds and volunteer labor.

This fall will be a challenging time for the coalition as it seeks to complete services to the remaining homeowners as soon as possible.

More than $60,000 is needed to complete the projects.

Organizations that have come to the coalition table thus far include:

Loaves and Fishes of Wyalusing

Hezekiah’s Hands from the Towanda Presbyterian Church

Grace Connection

The Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church

Lutheran Disaster Response-Eastern Pennsylvania

The American Red Cross

The United Way of Bradford and Sullivan Counties

Other partners include the Bradford County Emergency Management Agency, which is providing a link to state and federal resources as needed; the state Department of Community and Economic Development and Bradford County’s Community Development Block Grant program.

Carol Hatten, of Loaves and Fishes ministries, says the organization is a Christian outreach group representative of churches in the area.

“Christian outreach is our main objective,” she said. “You never know what the needs will be.”

Its work ranges from coat drives to supporting other ministries in the area, such as Grace Connections and the Towanda Area Christian Outreach food bank.

“We were asked after the flood in 2011 if we could look into spearheading an effort to help some of the families affected by the flooding. Little did we know that almost two years later, we would still be plugging away,” she said.

Hatten said in the process the organization “learned a lot, and we initially didn’t even know how to approach the situation.”

“We just put up fliers in the neighborhoods looking for people needing help. We went from that to holding informational meetings,” she explained.

Hatten said the organization found that FEMA comes in and helps out financially.

“But we found that the money has a maximum cutoff and many times doesn’t come close to meeting the needs,” she said.

The group also found that because of the widespread storm damage impact, there is a shortage of skilled people to do the work.

“Some families have strong support systems and had a lot of help that way, but some don’t have that or the capability,” she added.

After figuring out what the needs were, the group a found a number of volunteer organizations that had skills and would bring them in.

“Finally they started the Bradford Sullivan County Long Term Recovery Coalition and asked several organizations that had been involved to join to pool information and resources and come together to finish up with what happened with Irene and Lee and have the basis to respond faster in the future if it happens again,” Hatten said.

Loaves and Fishes has joined with the coalition and is working with it. At this time, the groups are identifiying families in need and working with volunteers “to get them water- and heat-tight before winter,” she said.

“It is a huge coordination and requires labor, most of which is volunteer. Some are retired, some are on vacation, but in order to bring them in, you have to have the money to buy materials, a place to house them and provide meals for them. They may have volunteers coming, but the money is still needed,” she said.

“Or you might have resources but no groups available, so it is a coordination act,” she added.

Volunteers and organizations willing to help are encouraged to contact the coalition by:

Calling Hezekiah’s Hands at 265-3767

Contacting Dianne Fox, the Lutheran Disaster Response work crew volunteer coordinator, at or 610-428-4598

Donations may be sent to the local not-for-profit organization, Grace Connection, 908 S. Main St., Towanda, Pa., 18848, noting on the memo line that it is for the Bradford Sullivan Long Term Recovery Coalition.

For more information, call Peggy Kranmer at Trinity Lutheran Church at 265-5322.