They were beyond human’

Joann DeLuca was in what she describes as a “state of confusion” when an Early Response Team (ERT) visited her home in Union Beach, N.J. The house, which was slammed by a wall of water from Hurricane Sandy, was still full of mud.

“We were in a shelter at the time,” she said. “You can imagine our lives were very topsy-turvy.”

DeLuca clearly recalls her first impression when the ERT showed up.

“They were professional,” she said. “They came out with a work order, and went through every room with me. It was almost like a company was doing it. They looked at the damage; then they looked at what had to be done.”

Across the country, the United Methodist Committee on Relief  has trained more than 10,000 ERT members who help people like DeLuca. Their specialized training and credentials allow them to move quickly into a disaster zone once they officially are deployed.

In Union Beach, after the team started working, DeLuca said she began to consider the chance that God was somehow involved. “I’ve never seen people work like this in my life,” she said. “They were beyond human. They ripped down entire walls.”

After several days, the effort became ecumenical. “They were joined by some Mennonites from Nova Scotia. We had Mormons working there for a while, too,” she added.

The team helped DeLuca go through 30-plus years of belongings in her home’s flooded crawl space.

“They found my pictures. And they were smart,” she said, “because I was feeling so hopeless, that there were times I just said, ‘Throw everything away.’ But they knew what was good. They would put it aside — a photo, a Christmas decoration.”

ERTs were fanned out through Union Beach. “I honestly don’t know how our town would have even made the first step without them,” said DeLuca.

Union Beach still has a long road ahead, she acknowledged. “Our town is very small. It’s less than a mile-by-a-mile, and 250 houses were deemed unlivable. That’s a big part of our town.”

It’s not just about repairing a home, DeLuca reflected, it’s about feeling accompanied after a disaster. “You felt like you weren’t in it alone. I never felt like I was imposing on them, either. They were fulfilling a purpose they had within themselves. They had a higher purpose.”

DeLuca wished to share the message that no one is immune to disaster. “People feel safe,” she said. “Well, I lived in that house for 30-some-odd years. But nobody is above a hurricane, or a fire or an earthquake. No one is immune to anything.”

Help UMCOR train thousands more Emergency Response Teams. Please contribute toUS Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #901670.

*Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.

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