Thursday, May 13, 2010

Flood's immigrant victims suffered in silence until volunteers mounted rescue

Photo of flood victim thank-you sign by Tabitha Kaylee Hawk.  Licensed via Creative Commons.
An article by the Tennessean's Chris Echegaray reports that Egyptian immigrants in the Millwood apartment complex in Nashville were being told that they could not break their leases without losing their deposits, despite flood damage to their units. As a result, these recent arrivals were staying in their homes despite the danger to their personal safety.

Here's a first-hand account of one angle of the volunteer response, from Avi Poster:
All of the first floor apartments in a huge, multi-building complex had been submerged under six feet of water ... and while the water subsided, living in these units was absolutely impossible. They remained soaked, mildewed, unsanitary. What we saw in the aftermath of the flooding were large courtyards in which everything family's owned ... furniture, clothing, personal possessions ... was out on the lawn. None of the damaged apartments were fit for sleeping in ... so some folks went to friends or neighbors to sleep, others slept outdoors on their mattresses. There were tons of displaced kids all over the place, many seriously ill from the conditions, including an infant on a respirator. These kids were Amelia's and Remziya's top priority. What was most upsetting was the sense of despair and worry ... not about where they would sleep last night, but where they will live in the days ahead, how they will move, how they will get to work if they move, especially when so many of their cars were totally flood destroyed. They worried about where their kids would go to school and how they would get there. The despair and worry in their eyes was enough to bring any of us to our knees.
Avi then goes on to tell about the resources channeled into the community by these volunteers, concluding with this:
Last night was about saving lives and giving people hope. I felt privileged to witness just one instance of wonderful people doing it. Remziya Suleyman, Amelia Post, and certainly Tom Negri saved lives and gave countless others hope. I was there as a friend and support ... and did try to comfort people ... and certainly dispensed my fair share of back-seat advice ... but Amelia, Remziya, and Tom truly saved many people and I got to see them do this. While TIRRC and Connexion and Red Cross and others continue to spread themselves around the community ... I got to see one night of a true team effort make a difference in people's lives. Am sure you have witnessed similar things ... and would value hearing about them.
Volunteers reached out to Spanish-speaking immigrant communities who were also hesitant to seek help, as reported here on and also in the Tennessean article:
Donna Perry-Flores, a pastor with Iglesia Apostolica on Smith Springs Road in Nashville, is volunteering her time in immigrant communities. Some are overcoming their fears after being convinced that asking for help out of necessity is not wrong.

"I've let them know that immigration status is not an issue at this point," she said. Perry-Flores went on Spanish-language radio, telling immigrants where to get help. She has traveled to apartment complexes, including Millwood, to help residents.

"Immigrants are being left behind," Perry-Flores said. "Not just Hispanics. Look at Millwood. It was literally push, push and push until something was done."
Another Tennessean article, this one by Brian Haas and Nate Rau, points out that immigrants are not the only flood victims slipping through the cracks:
Officials with the volunteer nonprofit group Hands On Nashville and the Nashville Area Red Cross said there are pockets that have not been served, but they are trying to find and help everyone who needs it.
Joel Sullivan, chief executive officer of the Red Cross' Nashville chapter, said they rely on citizens to report trouble spots. His organization also sends out volunteers to search overlooked communities.
Anyone in need or who knows someone in need can call 211, the county's flood hotline at 615-862-8574 or the Red Cross at 866-GET-INFO for assistance.

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