KEARNEY — The Kearney Area Disaster Recovery Group, a new temporary nonprofit, is expected to be up and running Dec. 1 to assist people who still are suffering from this year’s floods.
It officially was established Oct. 9 and will be in existence for a year. A steering committee is in the process of hiring a full-time coordinator. The coordinator then will assist with hiring two part-time community disaster advocates.
The steering committee includes Judi Sickler, chair; Nikki Erickson, vice chair; Tammy Jeffs, treasurer; and Lisa Lieth, secretary. All hold leadership positions with nonprofits that have been active in flood relief, including the Kearney Area Community Foundation (Sickler); United Way of the Kearney Area (Erickson); Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska (Jeffs) and The Salvation Army (Lieth.)
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KADRG offices likely will be located at Eagle’s Nest Plaza, 4009 Sixth Ave., near the UWKA, which is serving as the KADRG fiscal agent. Erickson is executive director of the UWKA.
Erickson said several grants will fund staff salaries and purchase office supplies, laptops and phones. Five committees will be created within the KADRG to oversee aspects of recovering, including construction.
“We got many donations for flood victims in March, but that recovery effort was just about completed when the flood hit in July,” Erickson said. She said 500 people registered for assistance after the summer disaster, and “our volunteers got overwhelmed. We knew we needed help to respond adequately.”
Time and effort
Erickson and Sickler expect it will take a year for the floods’ nearly 500 victims — individuals and families — to fully recover. They said handling each case requires considerable time and effort.
“Each case is different. It’s not just one call. You listen. You follow-up. There is extensive paperwork,” Erickson said. “There is no cookie-cutter application. Sometimes, people don’t have all the information they need when they come in for the first time. They don’t have receipts for repairs they’ve had to make.”
Immediately after the flood, two so-called “one-stop shops” were set up at the Salvation Army and the University of Nebraska at Kearney where victims could meet with representatives of various nonprofits to begin flood assistance. A one-stop shop also was offered in Gibbon.
But many people either were not yet ready to begin the recovery process or were unaware of hidden flood damage in their basements, Erickson said. “As winter approaches and furnaces are being turned on, more people realize they have damage. More people are coming forward,” she said.
In addition, Sickler said heavy rains have saturated the ground so thoroughly that rainwater has no place to go except inside buildings. “From the outside, it looks like flood damage has been repaired, but for many people, it continues. People tell us water is still leaking in doors when it rains,” she said.
After the flood in July, donations allowed KACF and United Way to give up to $700 each to flood victims who had proof of damage. “It’s been slow and painful, but we’re accountable for every dollar,” Sickler said.
KADRG will assist individuals, not businesses.
“Businesses can get low-interest loans. We want to help families,” she said.
KADRG member Mike Evans, a pastor in Gibbon, is representing people in Buffalo County beyond Kearney, such as Gibbon, Elm Creek, Amherst and Shelton.
Still in shock
Erickson was a claims adjuster for five years for State Farm, but she said this emergency is far different from simply filling out claims. She said some people were numb from the shock for weeks after the flood and are just beginning to recover.
“How many people know what to do or who to ask?” she said. She said some victims waited for help to come to them. When help did not come, they asked why. “There are so many stories,” she said.
While Kearney has responded valiantly to the need for help, nonprofit staffs are too busy with day-to-day operations and responsibilities to adequately serve flood victims.
“We all had to get back to work,” Sickler said.