Aid workers face long haul

Published 8:31 pm Thursday, March 1, 2012

One hundred construction jobs lined up in Manteo. Three hundred in Swan Quarter. One hundred twenty-five in Aurora. If these jobs were hiring, eastern North Carolina’s economy would get a much-needed boost. But these five hundred projects need workers of the volunteer persuasion, to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Irene.

The North Carolina Conference United Methodist Disaster Recovery is in for the long haul — long-term recovery brought about by natural disaster. Through operation centers in Beaufort, Hyde and Pamlico counties, case and construction coordinators organizing teams of volunteers have begun the slow process of recreating homes and lives destroyed Aug. 27, 2011, when the category 1 hurricane slowly churned its way across eastern North Carolina. United Methodist Disaster Recovery has been on site since.

“We’ve been in operations since day one, the day after the storm,” said Cliff Harvell, disaster recovery superintendent. “We transitioned right into long-term recovery.”

Long-term is literal. In the days after the storm, Harvell contacted the bishop of the East Carolina Diocese of the Episcopal Church,asking if the recovery forces could move into Aurora’s Church of the Holy Cross, closed in 2011. They got the go-ahead to house thirty people in the church, setting up bunks with privacy cubicles for the teams travelling from all over the U.S. and Canada to volunteer their time, money, and energy to the cause.

“They pay their own way. They bring money to buy construction supplies,” said Harvell. “They give because they can.”

The disaster recovery team fills in where FEMA and insurance companies are lacking when payouts don’t cover the entire projected cost of reconstruction or complete rebuilds. Case coordinators work with applicants to assess how much is needed to fill the gap then get it filled by using donations to cover construction costs, and volunteers to supply the labor.

“With $30,000-$40,000 and free labor you can rebuild a home,” said Harvell.

Thought the organization is a branch of the Methodist Church, many denominations

have pitched into effort.

“We had a team from the Shenandoah Valley, Presbyterians, Methodists. It was a community organized team that pulled together,” explained Harvell.

The need for volunteers is advertised nationwide, and through a call center in Garner, those teams—church groups, community groups—are “hired” on for a period of time. When they arrive, they’re put to work, for a week, three weeks, whatever time they’re willing to donate.

“Sometimes we have groups that come in and say ‘Hey, we want to do this start to finish,’” said Harvell.

Harvell explains the partnerships he’s amassed in his years working in disaster recovery, using as example the Christian Reform World Relief Committee that has committed to staying “with us ‘til it’s done.” Based in Scranton, the CRWRC has a camp of their own, their own construction coordinator, and a team of 18-20 volunteers.

“Basically, we just turn a job over to them and make sure the materials get over to the jobsite,” said Harvell. “We do the casework. They just want us to hand the jobs to them and get to work.”

Local teams on the site are harder to find, according to Harvell. In the days immediately following the storm many locals contributed to the effort. As time passed, however, the need to normalize their lives took precedence.

“By November, people had really given all they had to give.”

Harvell said he is seeking local to be a part of the rebuilding process, ideally by organizing into teams that specialize in a certain part of construction.

“Say an insulation team,” Harvell described. “Their specialty is to put in insulation. We can call on them, then the team that comes in from Timbuktu next week can start hanging sheetrock.”

Harvell estimates going through the list of construction projects and rebuilds will take two years—two years during which people from all over the U.S. will be introduced to the havoc a hurricane can wreak on coastal communities.

“We’ve got to run as long as we can as hard as we can to help as many people as we can,” said Harvell, explaining that to those that to volunteer is no hardship to those who’ve been involved.

“We’re not just rebuilding houses, we’re rebuilding lives,” said Harvell. “It’s a privilege to be a part of helping people get home again.”

Donations can be made locally to the Irene disaster recovery at Local United Methodist Recovery P.O. 386, Aurora, NC 27806, counties can be specified. To volunteer your team for disaster recovery, call 1-888-440-9167.