By Susan Kim*
Five volunteers are standing in the Asbury United Methodist Church in Crisfield, Maryland, talking about their goals for the day.
Nearly two months after Hurricane Sandy swept up the US East Coast, this team of volunteers will finish gutting out the home of two elderly sisters, then begin dragging soggy belongings from dozens of other homes.
Black mold is creeping up the soaked drywall and beams in many homes, said Jim Truitt, who with his team raised money to travel to Crisfield from Washington State. All have received the Early Response Team training of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
“We have been looking at a bumper crop of mold,” explained Truitt. “We are trying to communicate to people that mold really is a problem now, and it will only get worse.” Although the mold is growing at a slower rate now, this summer—with its typical Maryland heat and humidity—could offer an ideal breeding ground for the harmful mold.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did not approve federal aid for the town of 2,600, though Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley requested a FEMA declaration.
Meanwhile, the Rev. Rich Walton, disaster response coordinator for the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference, finds another damaged home nearly every day. “Today alone, we discovered five more damaged homes,” he said, “and my guess is that there are 350 damaged homes so far.”
FEMA is reevaluating its decision based on the new assessments provided by Walton and others.
Already, Walton has 60 homes on a list for needed repairs. “Some are still in the process of drying out,” he said.
He thanked the volunteer team for flying across the country to help people in a little-known Maryland town that, especially in the face of the vast numbers of homes affected in New Jersey and New York, has gotten very little attention. Yet Walton estimates long-term recovery in Crisfield will take two years.
It may take even longer if more volunteer teams don’t visit Crisfield, he added. “We don’t have a single team signed up for February.”
Walton, who is pastor at the Salisbury Zion UMC, commended the courage of the Crisfield community. “I admire the fortitude of this community,” he said. “They’re not willing to roll over.”
As FEMA passed through the town assessing damages, government officials told people who had flood damage to hang a white sheet, towel or shirt somewhere in the front of their house. Driving through Crisfield nearly two months after Sandy hit, white towels and rags are still hanging from doorknobs and fences.
“Yet many people here tell us we’d better check on their neighbor,” said Walton. “We had a lady whose floor had rotted and collapsed under floodwaters. Yet she pointed next door and said, ‘That man is much worse off than I am.’ ”
Your gift to Hurricanes 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021787, will help UMCOR respond to recovery needs over the long haul.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org