Churches, conference prepare for Hurricane Frances (Sept. 2, 2004)



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Churches, conference prepare for Hurricane Frances

Sept. 2, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140   
mwacht@flumc.org     Orlando  {0156}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Less than a month after Hurricane Charley roared through much of the state, the Florida Conference's churches and storm recovery team are gearing up for another hurricane that's expected to make its appearance this weekend.

Hurricane Frances, a category 4 storm, currently has maximum sustained winds of nearly 145 miles per hour and is projected to make landfall in the state Saturday. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) three- and five-day tracking charts show Frances making landfall in the Melbourne area Saturday and moving up the central part of the state into the bend of Florida's west coast near the Panhandle.

Storm tracking experts have been encouraging people along the entire southeastern United States to prepare for the storm because of its erratic nature and size. Frances is a slower system than Hurricane Charley, causing greater concern about heavier rainfall and flooding, with hurricane force winds currently extending outward up to 80 miles.

Churches and residents along Florida's east coast have been most affected so far, with mandatory evacuations causing more than two million coastal residents to relocate. In the DeLand District, which includes the Daytona and Ormond Beach areas, 21 churches have canceled Sunday morning worship services.

In an e-mail to members of First United Methodist Church, Ormond Beach, members were told "if we are able to worship in our church building this weekend, or if it is in the parking lot, or if in the fellowship hall, the service will be very low-key-an expression of prayerful thanks and worship."

The Rev. Daniel Parrish, the Melbourne District's disaster response coordinator, said churches within his district have been identified as either collection or distribution centers or as potential shelters. He has also been working to establish a contact person at each of the districts 45 churches, as well as identify three people who will head up disaster recovery efforts in the northern, central and southern areas of the district if the hurricane causes serious damage there.

"Our focus is on reaching and caring for communities," Parrish said. "We want to be able to reach out to those in need in a timely fashion."

Donna Kennelly, the Broward Palm Beach District's disaster response coordinator, said she has been in touch with seniors, sick residents and single parents in the county. She said many of the churches there are in areas under mandatory evacuation. Remaining churches have received a detailed fax from Broward Palm Beach District Superintendent the Rev. Debbie McLeod about the steps they should take before and after the storm.

McLeod said the most important thing she has been conveying to the district's pastors is caring for members before and after the storm is the priority. She has contacted each pastor and received contact numbers so communication can be maintained.

Communication is key in the Gainesville district, as well, according to the Rev. Wallace Kleckner III. He's pastor of First United Methodist Church, Alachua, and temporarily filling in for the district's disaster coordinator. He said pastors are being encouraged to check on their members and ask those living in mobile homes to evacuate. He said First United Methodist Church, Chiefland, will be used as a shelter for residents and people fleeing areas in the direct path of the storm.

South of Gainesville in Ocala, the Rev. Dan Jones has also been in touch with pastors in his district. Jones is the Leesburg District's disaster coordinator and pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church, Ocala. He said his church is preparing to be a feeding station that will utilize the church's full commercial kitchen.

"I began getting organized Tuesday as I was watching the storm," Jones said. "I've been telling the pastors to keep in touch with me, look after their older members, watch over their parsonages and churches, and just batten down the hatches."

With recovery efforts for Hurricane Charley still underway, the conference's Storm Recovery Team has been encouraging churches and district disaster response coordinators across the state to prepare for this current threat.

Marilyn Swanson, project director of the team, said individuals and churches should visit the storm recovery center Web site for steps they should take in preparation for the storm.

Conference leaders set up the center at the conference's main office in Lakeland days after Hurricane Charley hit last month. It is serving as the operations center for the conference's response. United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) staff and volunteers are working there to help Florida's disaster response team members direct recovery efforts.

Swanson said she has requested additional flood buckets from UMCOR and cautions people eager to volunteer in damaged areas not to head to an impacted area without first contacting the storm recovery center.

Jim Wilson, the recovery center's coordinator, said district disaster relief coordinators, many of whom have not been through a major storm, are being encouraged to develop a list of emergency contact numbers of support agencies, such as Federal Emergency Management Agency, American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. He said coordinators should also be learning the disaster process for their counties.

"Right now, it's an unknown where it's going," Wilson said of the storm's track. "It's going to be very important to have good communication so that we may make assessments and prioritize the needs of people in the impacted areas."

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Florida Conference United Methodists are encouraged to send contributions to "Florida Storm Recovery Fund" Conference Special #605 to their local church. Church offerings should be sent to the Florida Conference Treasurer, The United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 3767, Lakeland, FL 33802.

Individuals or groups interested in coordinating a group to assist with hurricane relief and recovery efforts should contact the Florida Storm Recovery Center at 1-800-282-8011, extension 149. The Florida Conference Storm Recovery Team can be contacted by e-mail at StormRecovery@flumc.org.

For conference news and updates related to Hurricane Charley go to http://www.flumc.org/hurricane_watch/.

This article relates to Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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