Fighting mold and resident unwillingness to leave damaged homes, volunteers plan efforts
More than two weeks after Hurricane Irma hit the county, volunteers are still struggling to get Flagler Beach seniors to leave their flood-damaged, mold-ridden homes.
"They don’t want to leave," volunteer Tracy Callahan said at a county Volunteer Services safety committee meeting Sept. 25. "I called them all yesterday, nobody wanted to go."
Last week, she was helping organize an effort to get flooded residents' clothes and bedding laundered.
Even then, volunteers working to help residents box up their possessions had to wear protective masks to protect themselves from toxic mold.
"I've got families that they went in with dehumidifiers and fans, and they didn’t let us cut anything out ... and they’re living there," she said. "One woman ... not only is she sick, her dog’s sick."
In some cases, residents — especially older residents who are less likely to use social media — don't know how to get help, or they have trouble accessing it. One woman was on hold with FEMA for three hours, Callahan said. One man rode his motorized wheelchair three miles to access a volunteer-run resource center in Flagler Beach.
Volunteer Services might be able to avoid some of the inconvenience and confusion by using the county's flashing road signs to direct residents to help, suggested Flagler Volunteer Services Executive Director Suzy Gamblain.
But even so, getting people to access it — especially when it requires them to leave homes they've lived in for years or decades — could be a challenge.
"We’re dealing with a lot of shock and denial about the current situation," said Josephine L'Leureax, Volunteer Services' Special Events Coordinator. "I think it’s going to be essential for this committee to stay together for a long time, because I think the long-term health concerns are going to be huge."
People are coming in to ask for tarps because their roofs were punctures, but are still unwilling to leave the house. Some are sick already, and more likely will become sick if they remain.
The volunteers are seeking medical professionals who can help, and some, including a doctor, have already volunteered their time for house calls.
Meanwhile, more volunteer aid will become available for Flagler in the future: AmeriCorps teams are planning to deploy, as are teams from Jewish Response to Disaster, which plans to have people in the field in Flagler in 30 days, said Sun-Va Tai, a representative from FEMA's Emergency Support Function No. 15.
FEMA is planning to stage staff near Orlando, he said, as more and more counties are requesting technical support.
The state has tarps, Tai said, which can be provided to residents and volunteers who are waiting for roofing contractors.
With contractors swamped with work, he said, "The queue is going to be very long, so this is a great program to get tarps installed very quickly so it can stop the rain until you get a permament roof."
The Operation Blue Roof tarp program hasn't yet been officially approved for Flagler due to paperwork issues, but is expected to be approved in coming days, Tai said. For details, go to saj.usace.army.mil/BlueRoof/.