Main Menu

Districts act quickly, begin long-term hurricane recovery (Aug. 21, 2004)

Districts act quickly, begin long-term hurricane recovery (Aug. 21, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Districts act quickly, begin long-term hurricane recovery

Aug. 21, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0146}

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

LAKELAND — In the eight days since Hurricane Charley ripped through Florida, churches and districts have mobilized quickly to help people affected by the storm. It's also clear there's much more work to be done before people can fully recover.

FORT OGDEN — This house down the street from Fort Ogden United Methodist church here is unlivable after Hurricane Charley, with blown out windows and holes in the roof from planks ripped off by 130-plus mile per hour winds. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0072.

Hours after Charley hit the state Aug. 13 Florida Conference disaster response coordinators and churches were already making plans and responding to impacted areas. The Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte areas in Ft. Myers, where the storm made landfall, were hardest hit, along with Arcadia and Fort Ogden 20 to 30 miles away in Sarasota. Central Florida's Winter Park, southeast Orlando and rural Polk County areas also felt the storm's ill effects. And there are a number of neighborhoods along the storm's path that still don't have electricity or potable water.

"There is total destruction," the Rev. Richard Nussel said about the Sarasota communities hit. "Trees are down everywhere, power lines are down. Telephone poles are snapped in half. It very much looks like a war zone."

Nussel is the Sarasota District's disaster response coordinator. He said he began making telephone calls to pastors in his district to coordinate collecting and distributing supplies that Friday when the storm started heading for the Sarasota area. District churches collected and delivered 2,500 bottles of water to Arcadia the next day, and Nussel said six tons of food was on its way to Arcadia by Sunday.

"The food was gone in 45 minutes," he said. "They are going to have continued needs of food and water for a while."

ARCADIA — Volunteers at Trinity United Methodist Church here provide meals to a community badly shaken by Hurricane Charley. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #04-0073.

Trinity United Methodist Church, Arcadia, became a distribution center, receiving water, food and supplies from churches in and outside the district. Residents are continuing to get supplies and meals there.

Nussel said calls began to pour into the district from throughout the conference after the storm hit, and volunteers moved quickly to distribute food, water and supplies to residents. Trinity church members who attended worship there the Sunday after the storm went into the community after the service and gave residents supplies that had been delivered to the church the day before.

Bill Barnes said it's going to take thousands of hands to get the community back on its feet.

Barnes is the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission's (UMVIM) early disaster response coordinator for Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties and the Fort Myers district disaster response coordinator. His role has been mobilizing large work teams for clean-up duties and minor repairs at churches, parsonages and buildings affiliated with United Methodist churches. He had a work crew cleaning up and making minor repairs at First United Methodist Church, Punta Gorda, 48 hours after the storm hit.

During the coming month, a work crew of 100 church members and UMVIM volunteers will survey and make minor repairs at Trinity United Methodist Church, Arcadia; Pine Island United Methodist Church, Bokeelia; Port Charlotte United Methodist Church, Port Charlotte; Christ Community United Methodist Church, Punta Gorda; and Friendship United Methodist Church, Punta Gorda.

UMVIM and church volunteers will also meet for five Sundays beginning Aug. 22 in Naples at Bob Evans Restaurant, 2570 Northbrook Plaza Drive, by Interstate 75, and in Ft. Myers at the Cracker Barrel Restaurant, 10090 Daniels Parkway, at 1:30 p.m. Volunteers will be wearing yellow shirts and armed with work gloves, hats, sun block, rakes, push brooms, large plastic garbage bags and chainsaws.

BOWLING GREEN — The Lakeland District's Bowling Green community, like many in the strike path of the hurricane, is littered with debris from decades-old oaks and other trees either blown down or splintered in the storm. Photo by Caryl Kelley, Photo #04-0074.

Barnes, who has lived in Arkansas and Oklahoma, said Hurricane Charley's aftermath is just as bad as any tornado he has ever seen.

"It really does look like a city that has been through a war," he said. "I had to drive over rubble, brick in the street. It's going to take at least another month to get everything back to almost normal."

The Rev. Tom Norton Jr., the disaster response coordinator for the St. Petersburg District and co-disaster response coordinator for the conference, said it's important for teams going into disaster areas to have both a purpose and target. He said the conference disaster team is working to devise a plan to reach each impacted area.

"Twenty percent of the state, 13 of 67 counties, has been hit," Norton said. "The area is 30 miles wide and 190 miles long. It's going to take a massive effort to meet all of the critical needs. We are working to channel our efforts."

In the Orlando District, disaster team members are working now to match volunteers with community needs. Marilyn Beecher says the team has a long list of needs at church property and in neighborhoods. Beecher, works with the district's Healthy Church Initiative, is helping coordinate the team's community outreach.

"Here in Orlando there's a lot of damage because of the trees, but it's not catastrophic, so we're at a point where can immediately use teams," she said. "If we can care for our community at the a few weeks, a month, we can support other communities."

While district disaster response coordinators are working to get donated supplies and people where they're needed most, churches are doing what they can to answer the call for help now.

Work teams from the United Methodist Church of the Palm Beaches and Community of Hope, Royal Palm Beach, in the Broward-Palm Beach District will be in Arcadia this weekend to help clean up. The district's churches are also collecting food, money and supplies.

Churches in the Tallahassee District have been working at the Florida Conference disaster depot in Madison, near Tallahassee, collecting and assembling supplies for flood buckets and health kits. Flood buckets from the United Methodist Committee on Relief's Sager Brown Depot in Louisiana were delivered there. In the two days following the storm, district churches delivered 505 flood buckets and 1,924 health kits to First United Methodist Church, Port Charlotte, and Trinity in Arcadia. The depot still has more than 1,500 flood buckets and 850 health kits ready to be shipped wherever they're needed. The district's churches have also been collecting canned food, C and D batteries, transistor radios, generators and walkie-talkies.

North United Methodist Church, Sarasota, has "adopted" Fort Ogden United Methodist Church and is focusing its efforts there. The storm caused significant damage to the Ft. Odgen church's sanctuary and parsonage. North Church is also a collection site for rakes, garbage bags, gloves, tools, food, water and diapers.

WINTER HAVEN — A  professional bio-hazard clean-up crew works to minimize mold damage and growth at Trinity United Methodist Church here. Photo by Caryl Kelley, Photo #04-0075.

In the Ft. Myers, District Pine Island United Methodist Church, Bokeelia, is serving as a Federal Emergency Management Agency site and has the responsibility of helping families on the island secure their homes from more damage. First United Methodist Church, Punta Gorda, became a distribution center, with volunteers working under a tent in the parking lot to distribute food, water, diapers, batteries, ice and clothing. Port Charlotte United Methodist Church and Friendship United Methodist Church, Punta Gorda, are also distribution centers, and the Port Charlotte church has been sending volunteers into neighborhoods to check on shut-ins.

In the Orlando District, Sanlando United Methodist Church, Longwood, operated a pet shelter during the storm, caring for 85 pets and their families. Peace-Hunter's Creek United Methodist Church began sending work teams into the community the day after the storm to assist in drying out homes and removing debris. And Faith United Methodist Church transported generators to four different districts and "had someone stand in the heat and sun as a guard of the generators until it was decided where they would go," said the Rev. Frank McKown, the district's disaster response coordinator.

Gainesville District churches had collected nearly five tons of food and supplies by Aug. 18 and purchased 10 portable toilets and cleaning chemicals with money donated for relief efforts. And churches in the Leesburg, DeLand, Tampa, Lakeland, Miami and St. Petersburg districts have also been collecting food and other high-demand items, as well as beginning to coordinate work teams.

Despite the collections taking place, some items are running out. In an e-mail message sent Aug. 20 to Sarasota District churches Nussel urged congregations to continue collecting food items. "Volunteers ran out of canned vegetables yesterday evening at Trinity United Methodist Church in Arcadia," he said.

MYAKKA — Myakka City United Methodist Church after the storm. The church is providing hundreds of meals each day to residents and helping the community cope with flooding. Photo by Richard Nussel, Photo #04-0076.

More than 1,000 meals were provided Aug. 20 through Myakka City United Methodist Church in Sarasota, according to the Rev. Chet Zarzycki in a report to the Sarasota District office. He said approximately 400 of the meals were packed and delivered door-to-door in one community. Another 150 were delivered to migrant workers in the fields, and the rest were served in the church's fellowship hall.
"There is a steady stream of volunteers from area United Methodist churches and sister churches that make all this possible," Zarzycki said. "People of Myakka City consider themselves most blessed they experienced no loss of life. They feel honored to serve their community and share the love of Jesus Christ."

For detailed reports of what districts and churches have done to help people affected by Hurricane Charley go to

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 Charley 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

For conference news and updates related to Hurricane Charley 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.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.