Crisfield saw disaster hit but waits for official word

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CRISFIELD, Md. — Nearly a month ago, Superstorm Sandy sent floodwaters washing through Teresa Shallcross‘ home in this little city on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay. Her home of 20 years is uninhabitable because her furnace is slowly falling through her water-damaged floor.

She’s watched her neighbors and out-of-town volunteers band together to rebuild the hundreds of homes like hers damaged by 100 mph winds and rising floodwater. But she’s still waiting for the federal government to join in the effort.

“What, because we are a town of only 25,000 people, we don’t matter?” Ms. Shallcross asked.

In Crisfield, hundreds of residents were displaced after the storm ravaged the East Coast and covered the city in 5 feet of water. But they’re still waiting to hear whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency will help them rebuild their flooded homes and businesses.

“It has been a nightmare. Three hundred houses were flooded. Another 200 houses had water in their houses, garages, basements,” said Crisfield Mayor P.J. Purnell.

Immediately after Sandy hit, federal emergency personnel and Maryland National Guard troops went door to door to help Crisfield residents who were trapped by the waters. They left within 72 hours.

Since then, the citizens of Crisfield and the state government have tried to get the federal government’s attention to help volunteers and state agencies to repair the damage.

Last week, FEMA declared that Somerset County (home of Crisfield) and 17 other Maryland jurisdictions will receive public assistance to rebuild public property damaged by the storm. The declaration will cover about 75 percent of the cost to rebuild things like roads and government buildings.

But Crisfield residents are still waiting for President Obama to expand the disaster declaration to help families rebuild damaged homes and business. Gov. Martin O’Malley and other state officials have petitioned the White House to take that step.

Mike Wade, a FEMA spokesperson, said he did not know when — or even if — Mr. Obama would expand the disaster declaration to cover individual damages.

“The government should have this set up,” said Billie Jo Chandler, a Crisfield pizzeria owner. “We need three paid workers to help us with relief efforts. We need 10 but I’ll be happy with three.”

Mr. Purnell worried that the storm’s destruction would affect the future of the city. Residents who lost their houses may never come back, he said. The flood also hurt small businesses that were already struggling to keep up, he said.

Crisfield, the southernmost city in Maryland, is known for its blue crabs, oysters and a quiet community life centered on the water. They are used to the tides. The old houses resting on top of concrete blocks have endured hurricanes before, but Sandy’s destruction caught them by surprise.

Many faith-based organizations have joined the volunteers’ recovery efforts. After the disaster, nearly all of the city’s 17 churches organized to provide for the displaced.

The volunteer crews can only help salvage the homes of residents who do not have insurance to cover the reconstruction.

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