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Storm season

"Storm season" Continued...

Issue: "Dating and courtship confusion," June 4, 2011

Victims who need help with temporary housing or rebuilding expenses can apply for FEMA grants for up to $30,200. (That amount includes any temporary housing FEMA provides.) FEMA officials noted that those grants likely wouldn't be enough for homeowners to rebuild or repair substantially damaged homes, and they urged residents to apply for loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Since SBA loans are contingent on acceptable credit scores and the borrower's ability to pay back the loan, some residents in areas already hard-hit by the flagging economy and unemployment may not qualify for SBA help. Homeowners without insurance or jobs will likely need to look beyond the government for critical help.

Help for storm victims poured into the disaster zone from all over the country: Volunteer teams from groups like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief served thousands of meals within days of the storms. The Baptist group dispatched chainsaw crews to help clear roads and clean yards hours after the tornadoes struck. (Since homeowner's insurance doesn't typically cover fallen trees that haven't damaged the home, volunteer help is critical for some families that can't afford thousands of dollars of tree removal.) The Tuscaloosa Volunteer Reception reported that 10,000 volunteers registered with the group within two weeks. The volunteers included church groups, school groups, and individuals.

Beyond large relief groups and teams flowing in from across the country, local churches remained a crucial part of the immediate relief effort: Church leaders who know the community helped to dispatch aid to areas that needed it most. Dempsey-whose church sent teams into Sand Mountain to help with cleanup-said that while FEMA and the Red Cross had helped, local churches and families had accomplished the brunt of the immediate relief work. That work included aid from several small churches that had been significantly damaged or destroyed.

While large aid agencies, including groups like Habitat for Humanity, assess possible home rebuilding projects across the region, Dempsey said his church was considering "adopting" a local family that had lost its home. Dempsey's church has taken a dramatic hit in the economic decline, but he said his congregation still has been generous: "I think if they could put a family back on solid ground, they'd work hard to do it."

Mrs. Dempsey agrees, and says though she's grappled with survivor's guilt in her unscathed home, she believes she's positioned to help: "We have what we have so we can help other people."

Mighty Mississippi

Dan Anderson/Zuma Press/Newscom

While tornadoes ravaged the South in instantaneous and random destruction, record-level floodwaters from the Mississippi are producing a slow and predictable devastation. Thousands of Louisiana residents fleeing their Cajun country homes in mid-May faced a heartbreaking prospect: By the time they returned, their homes might be destroyed. That reality sank in across small Louisiana towns as state officials opened a floodgate for the first time in nearly 40 years.

While seeking to protect the heavily populated towns of Baton Rouge and New Orleans from the swelling Mississippi River, the opened floodgates could submerge the homes of as many as 4,000 Louisiana residents in small towns. What's worse, floodwaters could remain on the ground for as long as three months.

Most residents heeded authorities' warnings, packing their belongings into cars, trucks, moving vans, and storage units, and abandoning their towns. Many residents hoped that sandbags piled high around their homes could hold back some of the water, especially if flooding isn't as drastic as many fear.

But flooding has been drastic in other states already: Heavy snowfalls last winter and heavy rain this spring have swollen the Mississippi River to record levels. Engineers in Missouri blew up a levee to ease pressure on floodwalls protecting Cairo, Ill. The waters flowing past the destroyed levee flooded about 200 square miles of farmland and destroyed or damaged nearly 100 homes.

The river reached near-record levels in Memphis in May, forcing some 1,300 people to evacuate their homes, and flooding low-lying neighborhoods. The river ran nearly 3 miles wide, about six times its usual span. As flooding subsided in Memphis, towns in Mississippi braced for rising waters and the threat of serious floods.

While thousands in Louisiana waited to see whether their homes would survive, some contemplated what it would mean if they didn't. Bernadine Turner of Krotz Springs spent a weekend moving her belongings from her home, and watching the bayou in her backyard. "There's no doubt that it's going to come up," she told the Associated Press. "We don't have flood insurance and most people here don't. Man, it would be hard to start all over."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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