VOLUNTEERS VITAL IN DISASTER RESPONSE, RECOVERY
WISE, VA. – From the start of flooding in Southwest Virginia last month, volunteer agencies have played a vital role in helping hundreds of families recover from the disaster.
The federal and state role in disaster recovery is to take care of basic needs. Federal Coordinating Officer Louis Botta said, “Our assistance will not normally compensate disaster victims for their entire loss. We can get people back on their feet, but can’t make them whole again.”
That’s where volunteer groups come in.
“Volunteer groups provide immediate assistance even before government agencies are able to react,” says Harry Colestock, deputy state coordinating officer, “Volunteer groups fill in where the government programs leave off in providing assistance to disaster victims with unmet needs. They give disaster victims additional resources to recover from a disaster.”
Volunteer activities included:
- The American Red Cross dispatched 21 mobile feeding units, served a total of 18,173 meals, had 600 mental health contacts, opened 11 shelters, and activated 462 disaster and volunteer workers. Volunteers came from Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, Oregon, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona, and Puerto Rico.
- The Abingdon Presbyterian Church worked with the Russell County Disaster Recovery Task Force, People, Inc. and the Appalachian Senior Citizen Group to help disaster victims.
- The Lions Club for the Southwestern District provided funds for disaster victims to assist with additional needs.
- Catholic Charities and the Catholic Diocese each allocated $10,000, a total of $20,000, for disaster assistance through the Advocate Center in Norton.
- The Church of the Brethren coordinated interfaith groups assisting in recovery efforts.
- The Bondtown Community Church operated a food pantry in Coeburn for flood victims.
- The United Methodist Church, the Mountain Empire Older Citizens (MEOC), the Catholic Charities and the Lions Club for the Southwestern District served as intake centers to refer victims to other assisting agencies and follow up on whether applicants got needed assistance and services.
- The Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VAVOAD) Task Force conducted a meeting in Tazewell on additional resources for disaster victims.
Although many states have volunteer organizations to assist with disaster response and recovery, Virginia has played a leading role in establishing community-based Disaster Recovery Task Forces. The Disaster Recovery Task Forces coordinate and strengthen the effectiveness of the volunteer programs.
“Virginia is promoting ways communities can plan for unmet needs in a disaster,” says Michelle Stacy, FEMA’s voluntary agency liaison. “Virginia has broadened the volunteer recovery effort to include businesses, emergency management coordinators and local community service groups.
“They are community-specific to whatever is happening. Each entity addresses unmet needs, including such non-disaster events as house fires, spill incidents and evacuations.”
Tazewell and Russell counties, affected by major flooding a year ago, organized Disaster Recovery Task Forces and were ready when the rivers rose again this year. Both are sharing their lessons learned with other counties in the area. So far, Dickenson, Lee, Scott and Wise counties are looking into the program.
Officials urge anyone who sustained losses as a result of the disaster and still needs assistance to register with FEMA by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362). For the hearing impaired, the number is 1-800-462-7585. Both are in operation from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.