Disaster relief team arrives

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer February 05, 2013 09:25 pm

Help has finally arrived for the 200 or so homeowners whose property was damaged in the floods of Nov. 20 that caused millions of dollars in damage throughout southern Curry County.

A crew of four from World Renew Disaster Response Services, a nonprofit organization that helps communities with long-term disaster relief, will be scouring the north and south banks of the Chetco River this week talking with homeowners and evaluating damage that might still remain.

The group  has been working in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, or they would have arrived here earlier.

Emergency Services Director Don Kendall admitted that many residents whose homes were damaged might have had insurance take care of problems or have fixed them themselves. 

“We expect that,” he said. “It won’t penalize us. It just shows how good we are in taking care of a lot of our stuff.”

But there will still be others out there among the 100 in Brookings and 85 in the Hunter Creek drainage area near Gold Beach who reported damage who couldn’t get — or haven’t had — repairs done.

The “Green Shirts” will canvas homes along the Chetco River first, evaluating remaining damage and putting data into a computer so a local group of volunteers can prioritize projects. 

World Renew — formerly known as the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee — only works with homeowners, not businesses or infrastructure, Kendall said. They’ll spend the second half of the week evaluating property near Gold Beach.

 The local committee overseeing the endeavor, in part includes Kendall, Vicar Bernie Lindley of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Brookings and representatives of the Red Cross, and will determine which projects to tackle first.

“We will ask for donations of money, time and materials once we have a bit better idea what our needs are,” Kendall said. “That’s what they’re there for; let’s get those (damaged properties) identified so we can do something about it.”

The “Green Shirts” will leave notices at homes if residents aren’t available, and homeowners can call St. Timothy’s if they still need to schedule an evaluation.

At least two of the four members of World Renew are familiar with the area.

“They came after the tsunami,” Kendall said. “They said, ‘You have a hole this big in your boat; we know someone who repairs boats. No insulation? We know someone.’ They have charts to estimate, say, a bedroom.”

Some projects will be too much for the organization to tackle, Kendall admitted. Land that was swept away in the floods — notably on Buena Vista Loop in Brookings — likely cannot be restored.

“They’d have to tear down Grizzly Mountain to fill that in,” he said. “Their (homeowners) best plan is to have insurance look at it. Yeah, they’ll pay a few bucks more. And is it worth it? We have so much erosion, they may not insure it.”

Kendall, County Planner Dave Pratt and officials from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries are working on a flood insurance map to update and delineate areas in the county susceptible to erosion in high-water events. The map hasn’t been updated since the 1960s.

Any new plan, however, can’t address existing construction.

“We are very good at Monday morning quarterbacking,” Kendall said with a chuckle. “And how much (of that land) will become liquefied if we have an earthquake? Curry County has always had a coastal erosion issue. We’ve got a big bull’s-eye painted right on us.”

Once the evaluators have an idea of what’s needed — in both materials and money — the projects can get underway.

“We’ll say, ‘We have ‘x’ donated, ‘y’ damaged;’ who is a priority?’” Kendall said.

Then the local organization will solicit for building materials and money to get the work done.

“I pushed hard,” Kendall said of his attempts to get funding. “FEMA, the Small Business Administration; they’re not even going to show up. So we have to do this on our own. Let’s get these guys started.”