In the days after the April 27 tornado that tore through Faulkner County, thousands of volunteers poured in to help.
Now, it’s almost deserted.
“Look around — nobody’s here,” said Wes Craiglow, liaison and public information officer for Team Rubicon.
“It’s bad,” he said. “We had 4,600 [people] our first day processed through our three volunteer-resource centers. One day last week, we had seven in Mayflower.”
Two of the three centers were closed “because nobody was coming,” he said. “Those volunteers were put in the field to work.”
The only resource center is at Home Depot at the Conway Commons shopping center on Elsinger Boulevard in Conway.
Craiglow said Team Rubicon, a national nonprofit group made up of military veterans and former first responders, is the only national aid organization still involved in Faulkner County.
“We’re here, 100 percent free of charge,” he said.
The group came in the first 24 hours, many of them leaving their homes and families, he said, to volunteer.
It has some local members, including Craiglow.
After talking with county officials, he said, it was determined that Team Rubicon could help by managing volunteers, for one thing.
He said the team did “expedient home repairs,” including putting tarps on homes, cleaning up and separating debris, and hauling it to the curb.
Craiglow said the Federal Emergency Management Agency determined 700-plus Faulkner County homes were affected in some way by the EF4 tornado, which killed 12 people in the county.
Team Rubicon assessed 637 homes that were damaged. From those, 136 work orders were generated, “and we are continuing to add one or two a day.”
Some homeowners have been gone or have been in shock “and are just now asking for help,” he said.
Craiglow said Friday that Team Rubicon can account for 66 work orders that “haven’t been touched.”
“Debris removal is most of what we do now — we don’t actually remove it; we get it organized and to the curb so the county can pick it up. That can include demo,” he said.
“Our strong suit is rolling up our sleeves and putting vets to work,” he said.
“First responders and first aid and all that was great,” Craiglow said. “You can’t beat the Red Cross; they’re there within hours. So are police and fire.”
However, Craiglow said, many more volunteers are needed to finish the mission.
And, it is a mission, said Craiglow, a 13-year Army veteran.“We’re working for the county judge. We’re officially part of their mission, and we’re still here.”
Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson agreed that volunteers are still needed.
“I would agree that from all accounts, you usually get that first influx, then [the disaster is] not as recent, so you lose a few that way. And people prone to volunteer, some of them just need a break,” Dodson said. “From what I hear, that’s pretty normal, but we still need volunteers.”
He said Team Rubicon quickly trains volunteers to sort debris in one of six categories for the county to remove.
“We’ve completed the first sweep of debris removal,” Dodson said.
The tornado plowed a 24-mile path of destruction in Faulkner County. Dodson said that is a “significant financial proposition. Officials knew they needed an organized cleanup, and Team Rubicon provided the volunteer management.”
Dodson said the volunteers needed to be managed in a way that conformed with FEMA standards so that Faulkner County could get reimbursed for the “lion’s share” of the cost. State and local money will also go toward the cleanup, he said.
The county judge said he has been “thoroughly impressed” with Team Rubicon.
Craiglow said, “The most important reason you have to have a coordinated method to assessing damage is to have a methodical approach to how you march across the storm path, record information and ensure that if somebody wants help, they get it. There are 15 square miles of damage,” he said.
Some homeowners’ insurance policies won’t pay to demolish a home or clean up debris, he said, so that can cost a homeowner $10,000 to $30,000. Team Rubicon is doing it for free.
Donations of food, water and shelter, and in-kind labor count toward reducing the county’s reimbursement to FEMA, Craiglow said, and the Arkansas Dream Center is assisting Faulkner County with inventorying and assessing that.
The other reason it’s “critical” to have a plan for the cleanup, Craiglow said, is to ensure that the work is done to FEMA standards.
“We do expedient home repairs — windows boarded and roofs tarped,” he said.
Team Rubicon, which is based in California, started four years ago. It will spend thousands of dollars on the cleanup and doesn’t receive any money for its work, except through donations.
Donations can be made to teamrubiconusa.org.
“We’re here in a time of need, but the challenge is keeping people motivated to donate time and, quite frankly, cash,” Craiglow said.
Volunteers may sign up at Home Depot in Conway.
Craiglow said people who want to volunteer or need assistance on their homes are asked to call (469) 301-1865, which rings inside the command tent.
“We’re working with academics, churches and organizations to schedule workdays where they can work in their own organization and give folks maybe a half day off,” Craiglow said.
He said Team Rubicon’s motto is “Bridge the Gap” because the team’s role is to fill in when the “real first responders” leave and the money from organizations such as the United Way Disaster Recovery Fund kicks in.
“The first week, you’ve got all the help you need,” he said. “The community came to a standstill for about a week to 10 days. We made this our priority because that’s what we do. You’ve got this strange place from about week 2 to about week 6 when enthusiasm wanes. We call it disaster fatigue.”
He said it’s understandable; people have to get back to their jobs and lives.
Dodson said at its current level of operation, he estimates the cleanup will last about another month, then “trail along through the summer.”
“There are literally hundreds of people still out there [in damaged areas], and very few are there to help them,” Craiglow said.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.