Suwannee Democrat

January 24, 2013

TS Debby recovery: 140 homes still damaged assessed at $3 million

Work expected to begin by next week on the first home repair

Suwannee Democrat

Live Oak — World Renew Tropical Storm Debby damage assessment team estimates that more than $3 million is needed to fix the remaining damage to 140 homes in Suwannee County. And there are still more in need who have yet to apply.

World Renew, a world-wide charity that helps communities recover from disasters, spent two weeks in Suwannee County assessing flood damage to homes where home owners have been unable to complete the cleanup and recovery due to lack of funds or materials. That assessment will be used by the Suwannee County Long Term Recovery Group to prioritize how to spend monies given through The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park's Flood Jam fund-raiser, a generous donation from Potash Corp. and a grant from the Florida Foundation to fund two positions to oversee the project.

“The staggering amount of remaining damage seems insurmountable but we are going to do all we can," said the Rev. Steve Sweitzer, chairman of the Suwannee County Long Term Recovery Group.

The committee received 140 applications for help during the two weeks World Renew was in the county recently and each applicant's damage was personally assessed onsite by World Renew team members. Applications are still being accepted by appointment only by calling 386-364-3405.

"We want to do all we can to help people get back into their homes and through the generosity of so many, we have the capacity to help some," said Love INC Executive Director Lisa Kriehn. "However, we know there is just so much money to go around and are sending out a call for volunteers who can go in and work with Hammers and Hearts, a volunteer group that works all over the nation in just such circumstances as we have here in Suwannee County," Kriehn said.

Those who have home building skills from a construction career or do it yourself work and are willing to volunteer their time are encouraged to call Govan Knight at 386-364-3405. Work is expected to begin the week of Jan. 28.

Ben Tarpley, founder of Hammers and Hearts, a nation-wide volunteer organization, along with Josh Hipp, are in Suwannee County for as long as a year to help fix these homes. Both men came to Suwannee County after helping to rebuild in Joplin, Missouri where a mega tornado destroyed the entire town. About 100 other Hammers and Hearts volunteers are expected to join them.

The Suwannee County Long Term Recovery Committee has hired Suwannee County Auxiliary Deputy Govan Knight to oversee all construction and keep the work going at a smooth pace. Knight is recently retired from the Suwannee County Maintenance Department. He will have identification with him at all times when he's on the job so home owners and businesses dealing with Knight will know he's the official construction coordinator for the Suwannee County Long Term Recovery Group.

Local resident Barbara Gill has been hired to oversee and keep appropriate records on each case where work is done. As Suwannee County Long Term Recovery Group Coordinator, Gill also has ID with her at all times identifying her work for the Suwannee County Long Term Recovery Group. Gill said she is still taking applications for help with storm damage Monday - Friday from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. daily at the Suwannee County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the old Douglass High School at 617 Ontario Ave. SW, Suite 200. You must call 386-364-3405 for an appointment before coming in.

Knight said volunteers with Hammers and Hearts, Catholic Charities, the United Methodist Church, Southern Baptist Association and possibly Mennonite volunteers will all be assisting with the projects that include plumbing, roofing, flooring, wall construction, sheetrock and more to damaged homes selected to receive help.

"Everything will be prioritized. Some have materials but no labor to reconstruct their homes," Knight said. "We will be starting there and moving on to others."

Local businesses are being asked to contribute what they can to the project either through discounts, donations or in kind services while local people are asked to contribute volunteerism and money to the project.

All monetary donations for the Suwannee County project should be sent to Love INC at 120 North Ohio Avenue, Live Oak, Fla 32064 or you may go to the new Love INC office in downtown Live Oak at 120 North Ohio Ave between the railroad tracks and US 90. Please mark your contributions as long term recovery donations.

For more information, contact Love INC (In The Name Of Christ) at 386-364-4673 or go to the Love INC website at

*Love INC is a registered 501(C)(3) charity and operates under the tax exempt guidelines as designated by the IRS and as such all donations made to us are tax free. Love INC - Helping Families in Our Community Through the Love of Christ.