Conference churches begin cleaning up after Wilma

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference churches begin cleaning up after Wilma

Oct. 26, 2005  News media contact: Tita Parham*  
800-282-8011   Orlando {0388}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

ALVA — Lodges at the conference's South Florida camp lost shingles and doors and sustained sofitt damage during Hurricane Wilma. Photo by the Rev. David Berkey, Photo #05-257.

ORLANDO — Now that Hurricane Wilma has passed and the emergency stage is over, churches and communities across the state are beginning the process of cleaning up.

So far, 38 Florida Conference churches have reported damages ranging from broken windows and fences, leaks and downed trees to flooding in sanctuaries and portions of roofs collapsed. The majority of those churches are on the east coast of the state and further inland.

Marilyn Swanson, project director of the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) and director of the conference's risk management office, said debris removal teams are "urgently needed now."

"People are digging out, and they need help to grapple with the devastating effects of the wind," she said. "Some of our South Florida neighbors are reeling from repeated hurricane visits and will appreciate any help individuals can give us." 

Wilma came ashore Oct. 24 south of Naples on Florida's southwest coast as a Category 3 storm, causing hurricane force winds from Okeechobee south.

Reports indicate areas around Lake Okeechobee, parts of the Florida Keys and Broward County, including the Fort Lauderdale area, were hardest hit.

CLEWISTON — Streets of Clewiston were flooded after Hurricane Wilma passed directly over the area. Photo by the Rev. John Hicks, Photo #05-258. Web photo only.

South of Okeechobee, members of First United Methodist Church of Clewiston spent the day Oct. 25 mopping up and stabilizing homes, according to the Rev. John Hicks, the church's pastor.

Hicks said many of the streets that flooded have been pumped out, but there's major storefront damage and downed trees and power lines throughout the community.

"Clewiston was in the hurricane eye, and when it shifted we had tornadoes and much destruction. Several of our gas stations had their pumps blown away by the winds," Hicks said. "Many of those in trailers had significant damage if not devastation. (There's) no power — some have no water. The sugar cane is flattened, and the trees are fruitless."

The church and parsonage were also damaged. Church windows were broken, and the roof of the office now leaks. At the parsonage columns on the front entryway and an awning were blown off. 

CLEWISTON — Fallen trees littered the grounds of First United Methodist Church here after Hurricane Wilma. Photo by the Rev. David Berkey, Photo #05-259.

"There's major tree damage. The sanctuary and my office were flooded, so we are wading through that right now," Hicks said.

The day was also spent doing "first aid" for mental stress. Hicks said most everyone in the 6,000-member community was affected and many people needed to share their stories. He said they talked about "wind howling, windows busting out, coming back to their home and finding the roof off their trailer." 

"I've done a lot of listening today," he said.

The church is also distributing ice and water that members stored before the storm and serving hot meals on its gas stoves to residents. "People have started calling about thawing food, so we are going to cook some meals and take them to people," Hicks said.

What is needed now are chain saws and crews and "bucket brigades," according to Hicks. "Those who have chain saws are up to their ears in their own problems," he said. 

Hicks said he's glad his community is under a curfew. "I am exhausted at the end of the day."

He also says there's been some good in the experience. "There was very little, if any, injury. People (are) coming together, helping each other. God (is) being glorified."

The Rev. Dennis Redstone said his community of Lighthouse Point, located about nine miles north of Ft. Lauderdale and four miles from Boca Raton, "is a real mess" and may not have power for two weeks.

"Trees are everywhere, power lines are everywhere, roads are blocked," he said.

Redstone is pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church. He said the church's preschool sustained the most damage, with the roof "peeled off" and three rooms and the roof of the walkway to the school gutted. The steeple was also damaged, with the copper sheeting blown away, along with some sheds. There's damage to the church sign, windows are broken and aluminum siding has fallen off.

"The storm was horrific to go through," he said. "We got an intense rain, and the winds were just horrific."

The Rev. Steve Bruns, pastor of Marathon Community United Methodist Church in the Keys, and church member Carl Wagner weren't sure what they'd find in their community once they returned. Both heeded the call to evacuate, with Bruns and his family going to Clermont to stay with his sister and Wagner heading with his family to Miami.

Bruns said the Gulf side of Marathon experienced a six- to eight-foot storm surge, which he feels certain affected the church. He won't know for sure until he returns in a day or two.

CAPE CORAL — Copper sheeting from the roof of Grace United Methodist Church here was blown off during Hurricane Wilma and landed in the retention pond behind the church. Photo by the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, Photo #05-260.

Wagner and his way family headed home early in the afternoon Oct. 25 and stopped at the church along the way. Calling from his cell phone, Wagner said he could see significant water damage in the pastor's office, the church office and a classroom. He said the water line on the outside of the buildings was about 18 inches high.

"There's minimal structural damage, but significant water damage," he said, adding the sanctuary is slightly elevated so the water damage may not be as great there. He wasn't able to say for certain because the door to the sanctuary was locked.

The Keys are a part of the South East District, which is still being assessed for damage. The Rev. Debbie McLeod, the district's superintendent, spent Oct. 25 visiting churches and communities in Broward County, which sustained the most damage. She said 98 percent of the district is without power.

Bob Ladner, the district's disaster response coordinator, was responsible for contacting churches in the Miami-Dade area. He said a few had significant damage, including his own church, Palm Springs United Methodist Church in Hialeah, where he serves as local pastor.

He said the western exposure of the church's education complex received the most damage. "The roof was lifted up. There are chunks of composite roofing in the driveway. It's almost like the roof was shredded."

One issue for the district is damage from multiple hurricanes. Katrina damaged some churches, like Redlands Community United Methodist Church in Homestead, and Wilma "made it all worse," according to Ladner.

NAPLES — Despite damage to its roof, Cornerstone United Methodist Church will serve as a distribution center for other areas of the South West District that were harder hit. Photo by the Rev. David Harris, Photo #05-261.

The Rev. David Harris, disaster response coordinator for the South West District, said the major issue there is power outages, particularly in Naples, Fort Myers and Immokalee.

"The longer that goes on the greater the need for food and water," he said.

Distribution points for supplies are being set up at Englewood and Cornerstone United Methodist churches to serve the inland areas, which Harris said seem to have suffered the most damage.

Harris and the district's superintendent, the Rev. David Herman, spent Oct. 25 visiting churches in the southernmost part of the district. "It's not as bad as we anticipated for a Category 3 storm," Harris said. "By and large it's much better than I had hoped for."

Teams interested in helping in the Florida Conference should call the SRC toll free line, 800-282-8011, extension 149. The center recommends that teams be "self-contained," since housing and supplies are in short supply. Volunteers should also check the Florida Conference's Web site at for updates.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

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

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