AP NEWS

Culpeper non-profit still helping hurricane victims

January 21, 2019

CULPEPER, Va. (AP) — Since autumn, it’s been almost nonstop for the staff and volunteers of Christ In Action.

Day after day, the Culpeper County-based charity has been helping survivors since mid-September, when forecasters predicted that Hurricane Florence would clobber the Carolinas. ...

Since then, the faith-based nonprofit has focused thousands of volunteer hours on hundreds of properties in three of the South’s storm-racked states, one of its founders said in a phone interview.

“I left my home in Northern Virginia on Sept. 11 for (Hurricane) Florence to make landfall,” said Dennis Nissley, who established the group with his wife, Sandy. “This is now our fifth month of deployment. We’ve worked on the aftermath of two different hurricanes in three different states — North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida. Our team is getting a little tired now.”

Nissley was taking a few minutes from overseeing the group’s cleanup operations near Panama City, Fla., where Hurricane Michael crashed into the coast of the Florida Panhandle on Oct. 10. The storm, which was 1 mph shy of Category 5 status, ranks among the four most-powerful hurricanes to hit the United States.

A big swath of the region is still reeling from Michael’s damage.

“You could drive here for half hour to an hour, and see nothing but devastation,” Ken Combs, the group’s spokesman, said from its base in Bay County, Fla. “It just keeps going. There a lot of people here who need help.”

The woods are flattened for miles around, with pine and oak trees snapped in two or left leaning in one direction, Combs said.

“If you’ve seen black-and-white film from bombing raids during World War II, that’s what this looks like. That would give you a sense of scale.”

Michael packed maximum sustained winds of 155 mph and a central pressure of 919 millibars. Its extreme winds and pressure blew houses up, Combs said.

“People get here and say they had no idea,” he said. “They’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“While we’re talking, today marks three months since the storm made landfall,” Nissley said. “And people who lost their homes here are still living with family members, friends, neighbors, wherever they can.”

Christ In Action has a team of about 30 volunteers and staff on the ground in Bay County, including the communities of Lynn Haven, Callaway, Springfield and Southport, Nissley and Combs said. Two of its staff families are from Culpeper, Combs said.

Using chainsaws and heavy equipment, the team has removed 500 to 1,000 downed trees, demolished about 25 storm-damaged homes and picked up tons of debris at home sites, Nissley said.

“And we do it all free of charge. We don’t charge people anything,” he said.

A good number of the group’s volunteers have special skills, and operate chainsaws and heavy equipment. Others man the nonprofit’s field kitchen to feed homeowners and the cleanup team. “We do all the work ourselves,” Combs said.

Many of the area’s residents live or lived in mobile homes, and cannot afford to replace storm-damaged dwellings unless they get help, Nissley said.

If Christ in Action’s volunteers raze their home, that can save them $7,000 to $10,000 in demolition costs that they can put toward buying a home to replace it in a few weeks, he said.

“We’re the only nonprofit that’s here that will demolish a home for free.” Nissley said. “A lot of people do not have insurance. If their mobile home is 10 years old or older, they cannot get storm insurance.”

The group is committed to keep working near Panama City through the end of January, Nissley said.

Most Americans are probably unaware that disaster recovery work continues in the Panhandle, given how Hurricane Michael’s effects have been superseded by other national news, Combs and Nissley

“This is off the front page, off the news, so getting funding to sustain this deployment is pretty tough,” Nissley said.

“We’ve set a budget of $2,500 a day to be here. We have about 30 core team members here. We’re buying 500 gallons of diesel fuel for our trucks and excavators. We’re buying food to feed our team and homeowners. It’s going to cost about $12,000 just to get all of our equipment back to Culpeper.”

“So if anybody has any extra nickels laying around, please send them to christinaction.com,” he said with a smile.

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Information from: Culpeper Star-Exponent, http://www.starexponent.com