CRUSO — If weather analogies applied to a disaster aftermath, the Rev. Peter Constantian would be in the eye of the hurricane.
As the pastor of Long’s and Cruso United Methodist churches, Constantian was one of the first at the scene of the crisis and is in it for the long haul. Now he is at the center of the next, much longer phase, which is the long-term recovery process.
The first 90 days after a disaster is considered to be an emergency operation mode, he explained, but the next 900 days is what will bring normalcy back to an area.
Ironically, the Aug. 17 flooding that devastated Cruso and portions of the Clyde, Canton and Bethel areas of Haywood, to name a few, came the day Constantian and his wife, Emily, learned that her long battle with cancer had paid off and she was in full remission.
“We had exactly three hours to celebrate,” he said. “It didn’t really sink in.”
For the past three months, Constantian has been spending 60 hours a week or more responding to community needs in multiple ways.
Cruso United Methodist Church still offers a free meal five days a week (except Thursdays and Sundays), a full pantry of food that flood victims can pick up for free and pastoral care to those who are struggling to recover from the life-altering event. The church is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for both meals and food resupply. The schedule will be continued through Dec. 22.
“We’re still serving 40 meals a day without even delivering,” he said.
Volunteers, under the direction of retired Presbyterian minister Jeanne Hoechst, show up to open and lock the church doors, prepare meals and work in the pantry.
“For specific things, we could use more volunteers to deliver meals. A lot of people are still without transportation,” he said.
There is an online signup sheet on the church’s website.
Cruso was at the headwaters of flooding that made their way down the Pigeon River, leaving a wide swath of destruction in its path. Many of the homes that weren’t totally washed away were left damaged beyond repair. For those homes that can be repaired, the race is on to provide a clean, safe and warm place before winter hits.
The Constantians helped make that possible for the home of a relative of one of their parishioners, but mostly he finds the best use of his time is to provide coordination services.
“Most of the time, I’ve found I’m most effective as a dispatcher,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of connections, so I can help direct people asking where they can get plugged in to help. I’ve also been trying to put together a team of case managers to keep a pulse on where actual needs are.”
Constantian is part of the Canton Missional Network, a group of Canton area churches that work together across the area to provide everything from food and clothing giveaways to a joint Vacation Bible School, ecumenical Easter events and other activities that benefit the broader community as a whole. He said churches in the network have been instrumental in the flood response.
“One thing we were really effective at in the beginning with the help of volunteers was outreach,” Constantian said. “We did a lot of door knocking. Even if you’re from the community and lived there all your life, there was no way to know what flooded and what didn’t. We used a lot of canvassers.”
Another canvass is planned for Nov. 20 when volunteers will circle back to gauge what sort of needs are still out there.
“During our initial canvass, a lot of folks weren’t around, and people were in shock,” he said. “They didn’t really know what they needed other than they just never wanted to see a river again. We want to check back and walk with that person.”
The question of whether flood survivors are still displaced is one that’s hard to answer, Constantian said.
A lot of people are living with family or friends or simply couch surfing. That isn’t necessarily homeless, but it certainly isn’t an ideal situation.
“I would say take whatever number that’s still in the shelter and double or triple it,” he said. “From the Canton Missional Network point of view, our longtime mission has been to make sure children in Haywood County are properly housed and fed. We know from studying this that there were a lot of homeless children before the flooding. There’s just more now.”
A vital part of the disaster response is being provided by Baptist and Methodist outreach efforts, where volunteers are in the community swamping out flooded homes and getting them into a livable condition.
“If a house can’t be rehabbed, we have access to some travel trailers, some from the state and some through the Methodist disaster response,” he said.
The most pressing need for the moment, Constantian said, is catching up with people to discern their immediate needs and working on a way to address them.
There’s also a need for portable heating devices, whether electric, kerosene or propane.
Some home sites still only have a temporary power pole that isn’t capable of handling a large electric load, he explained.
With the holidays approaching, there will be yet another need Constantian’s church is preparing to address.
“We are trying to think about how to provide spiritual and emotional care, especially for those whose holidays will be a little different,” he said. “It’s hard to let go of the way things were, but in absence of a new goal, we keep longing for things to be back the way they were.”