- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) - Getting back to normal hasn’t been easy for many families affected by flooding of the Wildcat Creek one year ago.

In all, 359 properties in Howard County were damaged. In Kokomo alone, the city estimates the raging waters caused some $12 million in damages to homes and businesses located in the creek’s flood plain.

The flood was the first of three weather events that brought unexpected costs to the community, one that was not eased by federal disaster dollars and few state funds, The Kokomo Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/1rbjqN6 ). In a community lashed by abnormal weather, the financial costs have been high. The city claims it is still owed more than $134,000 in state disaster relief funding that was to be reimbursed by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security for costs incurred during the flood cleanup.

Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said the city simply used its own funds in the cleanup effort, but said the costs of natural disasters have taken a bite out of the budget.

“At this point we have not gotten any of the money,” he said. “Between the flood, the tornadoes and the extremely tough winter weather, it’s been tough on the city budget. We’ll persevere, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time complaining about it, but it’s been difficult.”

IDHS Senior Public Information Officer John Erickson said he has communicated with Goodnight and that the appropriate paperwork is in the mail and will be reviewed in the coming weeks.

“It’s my understanding that it’s on its way to us. We appreciate the city’s attention to detail, because this process can take some time,” Erickson said. “I would say it will probably get taken care of in the shorter term, but can’t commit to a date on (when the funds will be reimbursed).”

For residents affected by the flood, finding new housing or making repairs created an unexpected burden.

That burden has been eased for some by community donations and SBA Disaster Loans through the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which loaned $1.06 million to help 19 homeowners whose properties were damaged or destroyed in Howard County.

In the area, transformed now and nearly unrecognizable, much of the cleanup and recovery efforts have been completed.

In the wake of the flood, volunteers and nonprofit organizations began to assemble a Long Term Recovery Team. The team has provided victims with everything from funding for home repairs to assistance with cleanups to help with big purchases and fixes like furnace replacement.

In the days following the flood, Kokomo Urban Outreach organized a warehouse on East Monroe Street where victims could pick up necessities.

“We ran into people that lost their bedding and clothing,” Kokomo Urban Outreach Executive Director and recovery team case worker Jeff Newton said. “On Monday (following the flood) we said we’d open a warehouse. There were 123 families that came through the warehouse.”

Newton teamed up with Bridges Outreach Chief Professional Officer Travis Taflinger, Kokomo Rescue Mission Executive Director Van Taylor and a host of volunteers to organize the grassroots effort that helped many families mop up while providing them with necessities. The team has remained active, though casework is slowing down for flood victims, as the group works to renovate its final home.

“We actually went door to door four times and let people know there was help available,” Newton said. “We had the casework done by the end of May. (Volunteer) cleanup groups started coming in from June through August to do some of the repairs and other work that had to be done. In the fall we had issues with furnaces that wouldn’t fire up, so we helped them with the replacement of those.”

Financial assistance also was provided by a number of key donations, including $60,000 from United Methodist Church to Kokomo Urban Outreach, and $50,000 from Chrysler to the United Way of Howard County. The Tipton County Foundation collected $65,000 in donations for flood victims, including $25,000 from Chrysler.

United Way of Howard County President Abbie Smith said the fundraising success began with the leaders of nonprofits forming the Long Term Recovery Team, which included about 20 people. The United Way received nearly $41,000 in donations following the flood, in addition to in-kind gifts and donations to other organizations.

“We used a model from Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, so they had a long term recovery guide that gives a template for when a community is responding to a disaster,” Smith said. “The Long Term Recovery Team divided up the teams into case management, construction and volunteer management categories and got a lot of different people involved. The role we play is organizing, bringing everyone together and figuring out how to respond as a community at large.”

Also playing a significant role in the early recovery efforts was the American Red Cross of North Central Indiana, which helped displaced flood victims with first month’s rent and a damage deposit. The Red Cross processed 217 cases, helping 594 individuals in the wake of the flood, with renters making up the majority of the families.

Collectively, those volunteer efforts have helped many families get their lives back on track, Goodnight said.

“The only word I can think of is proud,” he said. “I’m proud of our community. I’ve lived here my entire life, and I always say the one thing we do extremely well is come together during difficult situations. That’s probably what we do best.”


Information from: Kokomo Tribune, https://www.ktonline.com

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