There is little decking of halls this Christmas in Gertie Wells' neighborhood.

Yards once lined with pink and white azaleas are strewn with debris five months after the Flint River roared through, leaving gaping sinkholes on asphalt streets.Some houses will never be rebuilt.

Wells' neighbors are still in temporary housing. Thousands of them, many poor and elderly like her, face long waits for home repairs because the damage has overwhelmed contractors and volunteer groups.

"I've been asking for help," Wells said. "Everywhere I go they give me a phone number to call. I call there and they say, `We're going to get to you."'

But they didn't, so the 71-year-old former child of the cotton fields has begun rebuilding - by herself.

No stranger to back-breaking work, Wells, who worked as a maid all her adult life, hauled out some old tools and began making her mud-ravaged two-bedroom bungalow livable.

The foul odor of water-logged clothes and furniture is gone. She cleaned up thick globs of mud that coated almost every surface. With a $4,800 grant supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and carpentry skills learned from her father, Wells paneled three rooms, hung sheetrock on two ceilings, carpeted the living room and covered the other floors with tile.

Others were not as fortunate or resilient.

The July flood, Georgia's worst natural disaster, forced about 34,400 people to evacuate, mostly in the Flint River towns of Albany, Newton and Bainbridge, and Montezuma in southwest Georgia. It left 31 people dead and caused an estimated $1 billion in losses, mostly to uninsured property.

About 1,700 flood victims still live in travel trailers and mobile homes supplied by FEMA, which is picking up the tab for thousands more who are temporarily housed in apartments.

Roy Lane, city manager in Albany, where nearly 6,000 homes and apartments were damaged, said the recovery could take up to four years.

"It's a slow and frustrating process for the government and the people," he said.

Homeowners can apply for FEMA grants and loans from the Small Business Administration, but the repairs are their responsibility. And repairs have to comply with local building codes.

Municipalities can apply for FEMA grants to repair roads and public buildings. Local officials are studying long-term community needs, such as rebuilding schools and relocating housing projects.

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In downtown Montezuma, where 67 turn-of-the-century buildings were flooded, most businesses have reopened and many have applied for federal grants to repair historic structures.

"I think the town's coming back," said Jack Maffett, whose clothing store is still not fully functional. "All of the buildings that were flooded have remodeled. They've made them look 100 percent better."

In tiny Newton, 165 families were displaced and fewer than a dozen have returned. Downtown is almost lifeless.

"It's deserted unless you see a dog trotting up the middle of the street," attorney Earl Jones said.

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