Florida begins assessing damage after Hurricane Wilma



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Florida begins assessing damage after Hurricane Wilma

Oct. 24, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011 
tparham@flumc.org   Orlando {0387}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

ORLANDO — As the sun began to shine across parts of Florida hit by Hurricane Wilma, Florida Conference disaster response coordinators began the process of determining the extent of damage from the storm.

ARCADIA — Residents prepare to ride out Hurricane Wilma at Trinity United Methodist Church here. The church opened as a shelter for the night. Photo by the Rev. David Harris, Photo #05-255.

Jim Luther said he's worried about churches that were close to the eye of the storm, which came ashore just south of Naples early in the morning Oct. 24 as a Category 3 hurricane.

Luther is one of the disaster response coordinators for the conference's South West District. He's responsible for connecting with churches in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties in Southwest Florida.

Luther said he had heard from two of his 28 churches early on — Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, which reported losing part of the roof on its sanctuary, and Christ United Methodist Church in LeHigh Acres, which said there were leaks around the church steeple.

So far that's all the news he has heard, and he's not sure when more will be known, especially from churches and residents in areas that were forced to evacuate, such as the district's Marco Island area.

With orders from emergency management officials to stay indoors and widespread power outages, disaster coordinators were having trouble making contact with many churches.

Luther said power in his South Fort Myers neighborhood went out around 5:30 a.m. Trees are down, screens on porches are destroyed, tiles have been blown off roofs. A tree fell on a neighbor's car. He said the streets of downtown Naples are flooded with a few feet of water. First United Methodist Church is nearby, but the damage there is unknown.

It's much the same in the Coral Gables area of Miami, according to Bob Ladner, disaster coordinator for the South East District.

Ladner lives in the area and said he could see trees down throughout his neighborhood. He said he was having difficulty getting out of his house because trees were blocking his front door.

Ladner estimates the damage will be greater than experienced after Hurricane Katrina, but said things could have been a lot worse. "We were blessed by having a relatively fast hurricane. We didn't get the tornadoes we were expecting."

Before the hurricane hit Ladner reported many people in his area were not overly concerned about the storm. He said Wilma "reminded people hurricanes hit in all ways and in all places."   

Landner said he and district staff would not have a realistic idea of damage to the area until early Oct. 25. He said people who evacuated the Keys would not be able to return home and provide reports until officials determine bridges in and out of the Keys are safe.
 
One area of the South West District that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Charley last year, but seems to have fared better during this storm is Arcadia, according to the Rev. David Harris, disaster response coordinator for the entire district.

"Everything that could blow away blew away last year," he said, adding there wasn't much damage.

ARCADIA — 103-year-old Mary Nearing (left) plays cards with some of the other Arcadia residents who chose to ride out Hurricane Wilma at Trinity United Methodist Church here. Nearing is a veteran of the area's hurricanes and stayed at the church's shelter during the three storms that hit the state last year. Photo by the Rev. David Harris, Photo #05-256.

Harris is also pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Arcadia, which served as a shelter during Wilma for about 178 people. He said about three quarters were Hispanic residents. Over the years the church has worked hard to reach out to the area's migrant population and made inroads last year after Hurricane Charley hit.

Harris said the church did not advertise it would be open as a shelter and that people "have just learned over the years to trust us and knew we'd be open."

Harris said the visitors stayed in the fellowship hall and a few Sunday school classrooms. The church also served dinner the evening before the storm hit and breakfast as the storm was passing by.

Because there was so little damage, he said most everyone would be going back to their homes.

Staff and volunteers in the conference's storm recovery center are also beginning to assess damages. The next step will be to begin matching teams and volunteers to those needs, according to Marilyn Swanson, project director of the center.

Swanson said Christy Smith, a case manager consultant with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's executive secretary for disaster response in the United States, would soon be arriving in the state to support relief and recovery efforts.

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This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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