Tornado rebuilding efforts delayed due to coronavirus concerns

The coronavirus pandemic has but a hold on volunteers traveling to the Dayton region to repair homes damaged in Memorial Day tornadoes. Here, volunteers from Shiloh Church work Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, to help repair Jessica Brady’s house in Harrison Twp. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
The coronavirus pandemic has but a hold on volunteers traveling to the Dayton region to repair homes damaged in Memorial Day tornadoes. Here, volunteers from Shiloh Church work Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, to help repair Jessica Brady’s house in Harrison Twp. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

Natural disaster recovery efforts are on hold across the country, including in the Dayton region where the rebuilding of homes damaged in Memorial Day tornadoes will be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We want to do good and not do harm,” said Sammy Deacon, a project leader with Brethren Disaster Ministries.

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Deacon, who lives in Eaton, recently called volunteers home from making hurricane repairs in Florida, North Carolina and Puerto Rico.

“We want to behave responsibly and not spread the coronavirus so we have chosen to suspend our operations until a time it’s free to move about the country,” she said.

Skilled volunteers, including those with the Brethrens, were expected to arrive in the Dayton area next month to begin working on hundreds of damaged homes for owners lacking the resources to rebuild on their own.

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Groups were lined up to work through the end of the year except on major holidays, said Laura Mercer, executive director of the Miami Valley Long-Term Recovery Operations Group, which is coordinating local rebuilding efforts.

The first two groups were scheduled to arrive from California.

“Nobody’s going to fly at this point,” Mercer said.

Rebuilding efforts may resume in early summer depending on guidance from state and local public health authorities, Mercer said.

“We don’t want to put anyone at risk,” she said. “We want to encourage people to do the things we need to do in order to not have a bigger catastrophe here in terms of the illness.”

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Deacon said Brethren Disaster Ministries had groups of 15 volunteers along with four to six leaders arriving in the Miami Valley weekly beginning April 4. Now it’s unclear when they will be able to start work.

“At whatever point we can get moving, set up and start that schedule, we’re planning to do so,” she said. “We will be moving to Dayton whenever we get the free and clear.”

More than 850 individuals or households have been entered into a local tornado victim case management system. About half are homeowners indicating they need help rebuilding or repairing their homes, according to the long-term recovery group.

While working on Dayton-area tornado repairs, the Brethren groups will be housed in close quarters at a local church, which also raises health concerns, Deacon said. And while over the summer many volunteers consist of youth group members, a large proportion of the volunteers remain older.

“Our groups are more typically of a retirement age, so we do have to keep that in mind,” Deacon said. “We also need to look out for their health and well being.”

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The coronavirus is a more immediate concern than how quickly storm-damaged houses can get rebuilt, Mercer said.

“Most of the tornado survivors have established some level of stability in their life, because time has passed,” she said. “They have figured out how to make due for right now.”

Help with tornado recovery

Individuals whose homes were damaged by the Memorial Day tornadoes who need help rebuilding or repair are urged to call the United Way’s Helplink number at 2-1-1 or (937) 225-3000.

Calling Helplink will enter individuals into the disaster case management system and connect them with a disaster recovery case manager who will help establish a plan once rebuilding continues. Beyond help with rebuilding and repairs, calling 2-1-1 also connects individuals to resources for basic needs and spiritual and emotional support.