Out with ‘all the moldy stuff’: Volunteers help residents recover from flooding

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Eleanor Fernandes talks with All Hands and Hearts volunteers Ashley Midgette as she and volunteer Mary Bozzacco pack up Fernandes' belongings in Fernandes' flood damaged basement Wednesday in Papaikou.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Eleanor Fernandes and Father Clyde Phillips of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Papaikou.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald From left, All Hands and Hearts volunteers Ashley Midgette and Mary Bozzacco pack up Eleanor Fernandes' belongings from her flood-damaged basement Wednesday in Papaikou.

Decked out in masks and hard hats, Ashley Midgette and Mary Bozzacco were boxing up dishes in a once-waterlogged basement Wednesday morning.

The pair was part of a three-person team of volunteers from All Hands and Hearts, one of several volunteer organizations helping with recovery efforts after Hurricane Lane dumped record rains on East Hawaii last month.

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Rainwater from the hurricane had flooded Eleanor Fernandes’ Papaikou basement, causing water damage as well as mold growth, and that’s where Midgette, of Massachusetts, and Bozzacco, of Florida, were working Wednesday.

The space was small, and wooden cabinets lined the walls. Mold could be seen growing on some cabinets close to the ground.

Midgette said they specialize in removing materials damaged by flood waters. Their first objective, though, is removing damaged personal belongings.

“We’ll pack everything out for her, keep the things that are salvageable,” she said. “We’re helping her be brave enough to get rid of the things that aren’t, and then because there’s already signs of flood damage and mold growth on the cabinets, and we know they’re a porous material, we’ll rip them out with the tile floor and any dry wall that we found that’s wet as well.”

They’ll dispose of “all the moldy stuff,” and the remaining hardwood can be sanitized before Fernandes rebuilds, Midgette said.

Fernandes, who has lived at the home since 2004, said she never had flooding issues before and was grateful for the group’s assistance.

“I appreciate them,” she said. “They’re really doing a good job, and I’m so grateful that they’re here.”

Father Clyde Phillips, from nearby Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, said because of Fernandes’ age and health, cleanup would otherwise be difficult for her.

The assistance from All Hands and Hearts has been “phenomenal,” he said.

Virginia Aragon-Barnes also received help at her Kaumana City home from All Hands and Hearts.

The group was the “first ones to contact me after I called (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to sign up, first to arrive to do an assessment, and actually the last ones to leave,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday. “They’ve been amazing.”

Aragon-Barnes said she was “a bit overwhelmed with everything that happened,” and when the volunteers discussed the work that needed to be done — floors ripped out, walls gutted and the space sanitized for mold — she worried about the costs.

Learning the work was free was “a prayer answered, if you would,” she said. “I had no way I would be able to do all that by myself, especially since I’m allergic to mold and stuff, and don’t have the knowledge they did.”

She could clean up outside her home, but Aragon-Barnes said work inside “was huge. … Having them help me out was so beyond important. It was so valuable. I really appreciate it.”

Midgette said the group has completed four sites since arriving on the Big Island.

“We’re finding that a lot of the local community has helped themselves and each other,” she said. “We expected there to be a lot more sites that would need our assistance, and there haven’t been, so it’s really great news.”

In addition to All Hands and Hearts, Team Rubicon, a volunteer group made of military veterans, and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief also have had volunteers on the ground, said Suzi Bond, East Hawaii Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster chairwoman.

The three organizations are national VOAD partners, she said. VOAD helps coordinate volunteer efforts.

According to Bond, close to 60 volunteers have responded in the wake of Hurricane Lane.

“They came in at no cost of us and no cost to the people they’re helping,” said Bond.” They’re all funded by donations and grants.”

There are “a number of reasons why it’s wonderful,” she said of the volunteer efforts.

In East Hawaii, for example, “all the people that normally do this (recovery work) have been working on lava issues for the last four months,” said Bond.

Volunteers help lift the burden.

“Nobody has enough people in their town to deal with all the stuff,” Bond said. “They take a level of burden off of us.”

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Private property owners and renters who need assistance with debris removal, mold remediation and general cleaning can call 643-5555.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.