MORGANTOWN – The raging flood waters of a month ago have long since retreated and hundreds of tons of debris have been collected and hauled away, but in some ways the arduous and expensive recovery is just beginning.
More than 7,500 individuals have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and it has approved $33.5 million in assistance throughout the 12-county disaster region. That will help flood victims pay for immediate needs and temporary housing.
Additionally, the Small Business Administration is making available long-term loans at four percent interest for victims. (That’s helpful, although many business owners who suffered losses will be unwilling to take on even more debt.)
At some point, FEMA will pull out and West Virginia will be on its own. That’s why the effort that is underway now to organize long-term recovery efforts by the state, non-government organizations and myriad volunteer groups is vitally important.
State Senator John Unger (D-Berkeley) is serving as a liaison between the Tomblin administration and local groups to establish long-term flood recovery committees throughout the 12 counties. The one in Greenbrier County is already up and operating and now he’s moving on to Nicholas, Clay, Kanawha and other hard-hit areas.
Unger explains that these committees will bring together all the local volunteer resources to fill the gaps unmet by government assistance. Those needs could be anything from household items to home and business repairs to direct cash assistance. “This is neighbor helping neighbor, not just the federal government fixing the problem,” Unger told me.
FEMA’s assistance is for emergency needs; it’s not designed to restore families and businesses to pre-flood conditions. However, Unger believes these local long-term recovery committees can complete the task
“We’ll be here to help you become whole,” Unger said.
That’s a huge challenge, one that is far more complicated and probably more expensive than the immediate flood assistance, but it is absolutely vital. Many families will need help for months and business owners face significant challenges as they try to get back on their feet.
But Unger, who has worked previously here and overseas with disaster recovery efforts, believes it can be done. During his organizational meetings with local volunteer agencies his pitch is positive: “In this room we have everything we need to get through this. We can do things for ourselves. We don’t need someone to do it for us.”
West Virginians continue to demonstrate their altruism by giving money, supplies and their time to individuals and groups helping with flood recovery. Hopefully, that spirit of generosity continues as long as there is a need.
But what is also needed are these long-term recovery committees at the local level that can more precisely match up those services and supplies with the folks who need them.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.