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Help is in short supply for storm-weary communities (Sept. 10, 2004)

Help is in short supply for storm-weary communities (Sept. 10, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Help is in short supply for storm-weary communities

Sept. 10, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0161}

An e-Review Feature
By Michael Wacht *

FORT PIERCE — Community United Methodist Church here is about 20 miles north of where Hurricane Frances made landfall last week, and its one of the areas most devastated by the category two storm. As volunteers begin the process of assessing and meeting local needs, they're finding help is in short supply.
"Normally in a hurricane, people want to respond," said the Rev. Mike Oliver, superintendent of the Melbourne District. "There are people who responded to Charley who now have their own lives to get back in order. People are tired, and rightfully so."
Almost the entire Florida Conference was affected by either hurricanes Frances or Charley or both, and much of the conference is preparing for the possible landfall of Hurricane Ivan. 

FORT PIERCE — A team of volunteers from Community United Methodist Church here unloads a truck of water, paper towels and other supplies. The church is serving as a relief center, but church leaders are having trouble finding enough volunteers to unload and distribute supplies or meet other community needs. Weariness from and the widespread impact of two hurricanes and fear of a third are the major factors contributing to the lack of help. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0091.

Geralyn Coss, wife of the Rev. Steven Coss, is coordinating relief efforts through Community United Methodist Church here. She had two trucks loaded with food, water and other necessities Sept. 9 and was on the phone trying to find enough volunteers to unload the trucks and begin distributing the supplies to people who need them.
"We're trying to get teams to come in, but everybody is so spent," Coss said. "Teams from out of state and others in Florida are waiting to see what happens with Ivan."
Rev. Coss echoed his wife's sentiments. "It's hard getting volunteers. People respond, 'I can't get out of my driveway. I don't have food in my house. I don't have a roof on my house. I'm not available. ' "
"That's the problem-there's too much disaster to tend," he said.
Despite the lack of help, the needs are still great throughout the community. Coss said she was working with the local housing authority to get food and water to nearly 200 elderly and disabled residents who had no food, water or ice. "We're trying to assist those with immediate needs…trying to get water in, calling around for food."
Rev. Coss said Frances left "literally thousands and thousands of homes" damaged and without electricity. "People are living in dark, wet homes, looking for food," he said.
Because some homes are now unlivable, he has seen two and three families living in one house, sharing the food and water they have.
Coss said the damage to homes is not readily apparent from driving through the community. "The houses look fine, but you open the door and there's three feet of mud inside."
The damage to people's lives is less apparent, but more devastating, Coss said. "It's the emotional impact. The devastation emotionally people are dealing with is worse than the storm. We have people are without homes, people without jobs. I sat with elderly people with tears, saying, 'This is home,' but their children are saying, 'You're out of here.' " 
Coss said he spoke with one woman who was in the process of moving from one house to another within the community when Frances hit. The storm demolished both houses and all her personal belongings. "This woman is asking, 'Why?' "
Ministry in this situation is difficult, Coss said. Prayer seems to be of little comfort or effect in the face of the devastation. "I feel like just grabbing a shovel," he said. "People need hands."


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.