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June 22, 2001


Conference responds to fire and rain

By Michael Wacht

GAINESVILLE — More than 345,500 acres in Florida have been charred by 3,274 wildfires as of June 4, according to the Florida Division of Forestry. On June 12, the remnants of Tropical Storm Allison dropped as much as a foot of rain on parts of north Florida, causing flooding in Pensacola, Tallahassee and along the Gulf Coast.

All of this is keeping some Florida Conference churches and districts very busy, according to Bill and Lisa Rhan, the Florida Conference’s disaster response coordinators.

The Rev. Bob Sofge, a retired pastor and disaster response coordinator for the Tallahassee District, had been dealing with wildfires when rains from Allison started flooding areas around the district and lightning strikes from the storm began sparking new fires.

“We have several hundred homes in the area under water…and about 500 homes without electricity,” he said. “It’s not that bad in town. Along the coast is where it’s bad…and it’s a lot worse in Pensacola.”

Sofge is working with Tallahassee District churches and the Florida State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to provide flood buckets to victims of the disasters and hygiene kits to firefighters. He hopes to collect 100 of each kit immediately and start distributing them.

“This is a pressing need,” he said. “I wish people would get the alert all over our state that we have this need.”

Sofge is also working with churches in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. “Anything we don’t use here spills over to that area,” he said.

Rhan said he is working with the EOC to provide statewide disaster response. He said the Florida Conference has a network of churches and volunteers to distribute Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) wherever disaster strikes. The MREs are bagged food similar to Army rations that can be eaten without preparation. “They’re the quickest way to get some sustenance in a disaster,” Rhan said, adding they can feed both response personnel and victims.

The conference has 560,000 meals on hand and is working with an ecumenical disaster response network, including Christian Disaster Response and Catholic Charities, to distribute them. MREs have already been sent to the Tallahassee District.

David Willmott, the disaster response coordinator in the Leesburg District and a member of First United Methodist Church, Homosassa, is working with his local EOCs to provide meals to firefighters. He says the area’s new fire unit vehicle can carry as few as five cartons of MREs, which can feed as many as 300 people.

Rhan is also working with the conference’s 14 districts to make sure churches are prepared to respond in a disaster. Recently, Rhan and the Rev. Geraldine McClellan, superintendent of the Gainesville District, put as many as 20 churches on alert to respond to the Mallory Swamp fire.

Floral City United Methodist Church in the Leesburg District opened early this year to house evacuees from the 1,000-acre fire there and feed firefighters, according to Willmott. Another five or six churches have also responded to area fires.

Rhan said the flood buckets collected during the Dare to Share Jesus 2001 Florida Annual Conference Event in Lakeland are on their way to the conference’s disaster response depot to be sorted and prepared for shipping.

The biggest need now is for work teams to prepare the flood buckets and maintain the depots around the state, according to Rhan. “Anyone willing to be on a work team should contact Lisa,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that need to be done that youth can do, also.”

For more information on disaster response, to volunteer or in case of a disaster, contact the Rhans at 1-800-297-4233, 863-602-4224 or TheDisasterGuy@aol.com.  To contact the Florida State Emergency Operations Center, call 850-921-5146 or e-mail Alex Amparo at Alex@fccs.org.

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2001 Florida United Methodist Review Online