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Federal Funds Help Flood Victims Return to Work

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A $10 million federal grant is helping hundreds of western North Carolina residents find work after flash flooding and winds from remnants of two hurricanes last year wiped out mountain homes and businesses.

Nearly 400 people are getting paycheck while they help with flood recovery efforts through a temporary jobs program.

Last September, the state received a $10 million National Emergency Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to get those left jobless by the floods back to work. Employment officials from the state to the local level have collaborated to develop temporary jobs ranging from cleaning river and stream banks to rebuilding schools. Most of the jobs, which can pay up to $12 an hour, will end by June 30.

Candler resident Joey Brown had his first work day Wednesday and was clearing debris from the banks of the Swannanoa River with a former electrical engineer, a contract day laborer and an 18th century historian, all are workers in the program.

``It's been hard since November,'' Brown said. ``Other than little jobs here and there - I'm a carpet layer by trade - all my jobs went south.''

So far, regional officials have asked for only $3.5 million of the grant to fund the project. Depending on need, they could ask for more in coming months.

``I didn't realize the degree of the disaster until I got out here,'' said Jean Wooten, rapid response field representative the state Commerce Department. ``People really need work.''

While the original goal of the program was to get those unemployed because of flooding back to work, employment officials quickly found the number of eligible workers fell short of demand.

Many of those left unemployed by the floods were soon back at work. So officials opened positions to laid off workers and those who are among the ``long-term unemployed,'' or those jobless for 15 of the last 26 weeks. Employers hired the majority in November and December, said Rick Elingburg, manager of the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina office in Asheville.

And what is not a professed program goal has turned into a happy side effect.

``One of the most successful things we've seen is that we've had maybe a dozen or so people who've gotten permanent placement with the agencies that they're working with, and if not, they're definitely a future prospect,'' said Glenn Davis, National Emergency Grant program coordinator in Waynesville.

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