- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2003

POQUOSON, Va. — Gov. Mark Warner yesterday toured this city on the Chesapeake Bay to see recovery efforts from Hurricane Isabel and assure residents the state is mindful of the devastation the storm delivered three months ago.

“This is probably, per capita, the hardest-hit community in Virginia,” Mr. Warner said. “I just wanted to come back to say we haven’t forgotten.”

The city of about 11,500 residents, bordered by water on three sides, lost 51 homes in the storm. About 2,800 homes were damaged, with about half reporting major damage.

Many residents’ homes still sit in disrepair, with sagging roofs, walls and fencing. Yards remained ruined, covered by mud and littered with piles of debris. In the town’s lowest-lying areas, where Mr. Warner focused his tour, few homes had benefited from speedy repairs.

The Sept. 18 hurricane left more than half of the state’s residents without power and destroyed more than 1,000 houses and 800 businesses worth at least $1.6 billion. Thirty-three deaths were blamed on Isabel.

Mr. Warner first visited Poquoson on Sept. 20. Despite the lingering damage, he said, it was clear the community was making progress.

“It looks a lot better than it did when we came through after the storm,” he said.

Poquoson has received federal and state disaster aid totaling more than $6 million, but city officials still expect to be about $800,000 short of the money needed to handle storm-related costs. Mr. Warner did not pledge new funds during the visit.

“We’re hoping the state will come up with more money for us,” City Councilman Buddy Green said. “That’s what we’re asking them to do.”

Mr. Green said the city also is trying to get more money to provide psychological counseling for people still displaced and living in 240 trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He said local leaders were worried because domestic violence is slightly higher than normal.

“We’ve got so many people living in these little trailers that domestic violence problems are bound to crop up,” he said. “That’s a real concern.”

The 8-by-32-foot trailers are winterized and have enough beds to sleep up to six persons, FEMA said. However, they have only one bathroom and enclosed bedroom, offering little privacy.

June Morgan, who is in her 70s, moved into one of the trailers after she temporarily lost her home when Isabel struck. She shared her house with her daughter and two granddaughters, and now shares the trailer with them as well.

“It’s even hard to take a bath and stuff without everybody seeing you,” said Mrs. Morgan’s 13-year-old granddaughter, Chelsea.

Mrs. Morgan, who relies on an external oxygen supply, called the trailers much less comfortable than her home.

“You can’t breathe in there,” she said. “It’s just so small and so warm.”

Bob Nadeau, Mrs. Morgan’s neighbor and a volunteer contractor, has been spending several hours each night after work rebuilding her home. Floodwaters nearly destroyed the entire first floor and electrical system. Water also damaged her plumbing system, furniture and personal belongings.

Yesterday, only the first floor’s main structural supports were repaired, leaving the ground visible. Mr. Nadeau said he couldn’t estimate when work on the house would be completed. Mrs. Morgan, like most Poquoson residents living in FEMA trailers, faces an April 1 deadline to move out.

“It’s going to take awhile,” Mr. Nadeau said.

He said Mrs. Morgan doesn’t have enough money to hire a crew of contractors to finish the work quickly, a problem also facing other elderly and disabled residents. Mrs. Morgan relies on volunteers to provide both materials and labor, Mr. Nadeau said, and there haven’t been many.

“Without money to get these guys, you have to pay them, and a lot of them aren’t volunteers,” he said. “She doesn’t have any money.”

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