When Jane Cage, a resident and volunteer after a devastating tornado swept through Joplin, Mo., in 2011, spoke to Weld County agencies about flood recovery, she advised them not to get overwhelmed by the long process ahead. The only way to get through, she said, is to focus on one family at a time.
Weld is now moving fully into long-term recovery mode, complete with a graphically designed logo — Weld Recovers — and a recovery board with by-laws, subcommittees, case managers, counselors, churches and state, county and town liaisons. The board — comprised of eight members who head up different subcommittees, such as volunteer engagement, construction and needs assessment — meets every first and third Thursday of the month and, on the second and fourth Thursday, the entire team comes together for a community meeting. It’s a model established by FEMA which local agencies have used following disasters like Hurricane Sandy, the Windsor tornado and, in Cage’s experience, the Joplin tornado.
Cage said much of the process had to do with establishing a big-picture vision for recovery and then the details on how to get there.
“That took time,” she said. “I felt like I was constantly pulled between the need to report (a person or case in need) and to develop a real vision and plan.”
Jeannine Truswell, president and CEO of United Way of Weld County, said the recovery team has so far found the major issue to be housing, both where those displaced by the flood can afford to live and what kind of housing should be brought into the area that would fit into the region’s development plans.
“I think that’s going to take a lot of heads working together,” Truswell said.
In the meantime, Weld Recovers is working on fine-tuning its communications and resources, ensuring help isn’t duplicated and the highest unmet needs are rising to the top.
The money raised and awarded to flood victims has stayed the same, at $1.3 million raised by the Weld County Flood Relief Fund and $1.16 million given to 267 affected households. More than 60 percent has gone to households in Evans, followed by 12 percent to Milliken households and 10 percent to Greeley households.
Some of the remaining funds will go toward the start-up costs of bringing the House in a Box program to Weld, which will bring mattresses, appliances and more to 100 Weld families who were forced to relocate. Truswell said those things should get distributed sometime in early January.
Still, United Way and the Community Foundation Serving Greeley and Weld County estimate the households that applied with them for money will need an additional $1.8 million to fully recover. FEMA estimates 909 households never applied for money from Weld’s fund.
Weld also saw some money — $275,000 — from the Colorado Rising Fund, a flood benefit concert in October. That money has been recommended to go through the recovery team for allocation.
A flood recovery outreach team with 14 crisis counselors was also formed to go door to door in a wide mile radius to see what families need. Their work is funded by a $750,000 grant from FEMA. And case managers are getting hired through grants awarded to the state’s faith-based agencies, such as Catholic Charities and Lutheran Family Services.
Throughout recovery, Cage said, there were signs of improvement from the deadly Joplin tornado. All of the FEMA modular homes set up for displaced families (there were 576) have been removed at this point, and those families have found more stable places to stay.
In just another week or so, the city will reopen one of several schools wiped out in the area, and the damaged hospital is expected to finish repairs in 2015, Cage said.
She said one of the greatest obstacles in recovery is money — it’s always needed and there’s never enough. Still, Cage said she views full recovery as every person fully standing on their own again. And the fact that many are well on their way gives her peace of mind.
“Recovery is really a marathon,” Cage said. “It’s not a sprint.”