Flood victims' homes, and hearts, still need healing (February 9, 2015)

Written by Valerie Fortney

Published by Calgary Herald on Monday, February 9, 2015

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For the past year and a half, Tim Neubauer has been working out of a row of trailers in Calgary’s far southeast. “We had a room that served as an executive office, but you could still tell you were in a trailer,” he says with a laugh.

Neubauer and his team of 12 from Samaritan’s Purse spent that time helping victims of the June 2013 flood in Calgary and High River, doing everything from shovelling mud to rebuilding entire homes.

Recently, they said goodbye to those trailers, but not because they were wrapping up their duties in the aftermath of the biggest natural disaster to hit this province. Instead, they moved just a few kilometres away, to a more grounded home — a 3,000-square-foot office and warehouse space.

“We get a lot of people saying, ‘What do you mean people still aren’t back in their homes?’” says Neubauer, the disaster recovery case manager for the Southern Alberta Restoration Project, one of the many initiatives of the Christian organization that provides assistance to those in need around the world. “Many don’t realize there is still a long road ahead for some of their neighbours.”

Indeed, 20 months after the flood waters hit the region and temporarily displaced more than 100,000 people in Calgary and High River one can still find pockets of devastation, along with homeowners frustrated with the labyrinth of insurance and provincial disaster relief rules and regulations, as attested to in a new survey released by the River Communities Action Group.

“It’s kept us busy for a year and a half,” says Neubauer on Monday morning at an open house for the project’s new offices. “It’s really a marathon.”

For the folks at Samaritan’s Purse, the marathon got off to a running start in the hours after raging waters put thousands of Albertans in harm’s way. On the one-year anniversary, they were still out there, working to fix properties and help those whose lives had been upended. Over time, they’ve been able to mark off 21 completed home projects, 15 in High River and six in Calgary, much of it thanks to the nearly 10,000 hours in volunteer help that supplemented the work of its small staff.

On Monday, they are still hard at work, answering phones, assessing new clients and working on 21 active projects. “We’re hearing from people whose houses have already undergone remediation,” says Neubauer, “and are now being told they have to tear it all down.”

Thanks to about $3 million in donations, from individual and community donors, along with funds allocated from the Red Cross, the Samaritan’s Purse project and its people have kept steaming along.

While rebuilding in the practical sense post-flood has often been an uphill climb, Neubauer says that’s nothing compared to the psychic healing needed. “We’ve met people who had had even more trauma since the flood,” he says. “We also try to show kindness, give hope back.”

Last week, another local organization marked its one-year anniversary working toward that same aim.

“We’ve received more than 400 requests for services and provided more than 1,800 hours of counselling,” says Thalia Anderen of the Calgary Counselling Centre, which just marked one year of offering free counselling to High River area flood victims.

While the need was at its highest in the weeks and months following the flood, Anderen says that residents are still dealing with a variety of issues including PTSD.

“The first anniversary of the flood was tough, as was the spring leading up,” says Anderen, the centre’s associate director of counselling initiatives. “I imagine we’ll be seeing that again as we approach the second anniversary.”

Still, Anderen emphasizes that while the journey for many continues, she sees hope for those in the hardest hit communities. “High River is an incredibly resilient town,” she says, “with people being supportive of one another and taking advantage of what resources are available to them.”

People like Tim Neubauer share that optimism. “Disaster is awful, but so much good can come out of it,” he says. “Over this time, we’ve met so many awesome people in High River and Calgary, many of them have become like family to us,” he says.

Continuing to attract volunteers has become harder, though, due to compassion fatigue and the misperception that the flood is in the past. “For many people, it’s far from over,” he says. “We’ll do our best to help at least for the rest of 2015.”

Click here to sign up to volunteer with the Southern Alberta Restoration Project.

For more information and to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.

Read more: http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/fortney-flood-victims-homes-and-hearts-still-need-healing

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