Storm center workers say recovery will take years (Oct. 12, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Storm center workers say recovery will take years

Oct. 12, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0179}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

LAKELAND — Although the lights are on and air conditioners are humming again in most parts of the state, Florida's recovery from four hurricanes will be years in the making.

That's the message from Marilyn Swanson, project director of the Florida Storm Recovery Center (FSRC). Swanson said more than one million people have registered for help with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), compared to 187,000 requests for help after Hurricane Andrew, a Category 4 storm that hit Miami's Homestead area in August 1992 and caused an estimated $25 billion in damages in the United States.

LAKELAND — Florida Storm Recovery Center volunteer Amy Gill, left, helps field calls from people wanting more information about recovery efforts or ready to volunteer. Photo by Caryl Kelley, Photo #04-0103.

The Florida Conference launched the FSRC right after Hurricane Charley to fill community needs resulting from that hurricane, but it's also helping people affected by the other storms that have hit the state.
"We're doing Christian case management," Swanson said. "We look at the whole person, and we try to find what situation would make that person or that family whole."
The center is in the relief and transition-to-recovery phase through Oct. 31. The primary focus is safety, sanitation and security. That includes drying in homes, cleanup, food and essentials distribution, and pastoral care to the community.

As the relief phase concludes, the center already boasts large numbers of urgent needs met. Jim Wilson, the logistics coordinator, said approximately 20,000 volunteers have performed about 900,000 volunteer hours throughout the Florida Conference as of Sept. 30. Many of the volunteers are from Florida, but others hail from 22 other states-some as far away as the West Coast and Northeast.

As Floridians muddled their way through the aftermath of each hurricane, the FSRC volunteers served them in the most basic ways possible. More than 100,000 meals were served through Florida Conference churches and more than 500,000 pounds of ice were given away, according to Wilson. Wilson's records also indicate volunteers have placed tarps on, or dried, the roofs of about 2,000 homes.

The center has also helped the neighboring Alabama-West Florida Conference establish its own disaster relief center and is assisting with referrals for UMCOR assistance to the Caribbean and Haiti, which were affected by hurricanes this year. Nearly 3,000 people in Haiti are reported missing or dead after Jeanne, which was a tropical storm when it swept over the country, according to National Public Radio.
And the demand for more volunteers will not let up soon. "The greatest challenge right now is that we need work teams and donations," Swanson said.
Swanson hopes people will form "work teams" of four or more and then call the FSRC to accept assignments through the storm recovery center so efforts are not duplicated. And although donations to the effort now total $757,082, Swanson said far more is needed.

Wilson said current volunteers are "still literally feeding thousands of people a day." In all, 450 truckloads of food have been distributed, as well as 36,000 gallons of water.

In the transition-to-recovery phase United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) consultant Mary Gaudreau has completed some pastoral and congregational care workshops in affected districts and will be returning in the future to help guide pastors and congregations through the stages of a disaster. Gaudreau is director of care ministries for the Oklahoma Annual Conference Disaster Response.

Storm center workers will also be visiting neighborhoods to remind residents the church cares about them and help reduce the loneliness some survivors may feel, as well as gather information about their needs.

From the Lakeland office, volunteers are staying in touch with affected districts and distribution centers to determine what needs exist and who can be "matched" to fill those needs.
"We are making phone calls out to the districts to determine what communities are in need, because we are trying to get a bigger picture of where the critical needs are," Swanson said. 
The longest phase, recovery, begins in November. The main goals will be repairing and rebuilding uninsured and underinsured dwellings. The center will also provide financial assistance, continued pastoral care to the community, and pastoral and congregational care for clergy and church members. The conference's Shade and Fresh Water ministry will work with pastoral families affected by the storm or providing assistance to other storm victims to help them cope. That includes making respite arrangements for individuals and couples needing time away from disaster areas, scheduling "safe and protected space" retreats for clergy families, and coordinating replacement ministers for clergy attending retreats or needing time away to be with family.

The FSRC will also be providing a special needs case worker to respond to the needs of farm workers and seniors hit especially hard by the storms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted today that Florida will have its smallest citrus crop since the 1991-92 season, with 27 percent fewer oranges and 63 percent fewer grapefruits than last year, according to an article in the Miami Herald.

Swanson estimates the recovery center will be operating for at least two years. She said the center will remain open "until the last person is made whole and restored to their condition-or better-before [the hurricanes]."


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.

Groups interested in forming a work team 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

Donations for relief may also be made to UMCOR Advance #982410, "Hurricanes 2004," and dropped into church offering plates or mailed to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. People donating by credit card can call 800-554-8583.

For conference news and storm updates go to

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.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.

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