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Pastors leave Florida Keys along with residents (Sept. 10, 2004)

Pastors leave Florida Keys along with residents (Sept. 10, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pastors leave Florida Keys along with residents

Sept. 10, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0163}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham**

ORLANDO — It's now or never for residents of the Florida Keys to leave the islands, and while most Florida Conference pastors serving the area are heeding Monroe County's mandatory evacuation orders, at least one plans to ride out Hurricane Ivan at home.

As of 2 p.m. Friday the storm was headed toward Kingston Jamaica with maximum sustained winds of 145 miles per hour and a storm surge of five to eight feet expected in the hurricane's eye wall, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency's five-day tracking chart shows the storm possibly impacting the Keys Monday.

Tourists and non-residents were told to leave the 100-mile long chain of islands yesterday. Lower Keys residents began leaving Friday at 7 a.m., and middle and upper keys residents were scheduled to move out at noon and 4 p.m., respectively.

The Rev. Dr. Keith Ewing, superintendent of the Miami District, which includes all of the Keys, said officials in the Monroe County Emergency Management Office wanted at least 86 percent of the islands' 79,000 residents to evacuate because they consider Ivan "a more serious storm." The norm is 43 percent.

Ewing said he checked with all his pastors on the Keys, and all but one was evacuating.

The Rev. Tom Cullens is one of the seven who is evacuating. Cullens has served Community United Methodist Church in Marathon for three years. Marathon is at the beginning of the middle Keys, right at the dividing line for the lower Keys. He said he packed up yesterday, preparing both his home and the church as best he could, and left this morning at 4:30 a.m. to beat the traffic. He said there was an "orderly" line of cars before and after him.

Cullens evacuated to his home in Ormond Beach, which was boarded up by his father in preparation for Hurricane Frances.

He said packing up and leaving wasn't difficult. Not knowing if his church will still be there when he gets back is hard.

"I took the Bible off the altar, put it up high ... that really hurt," he said. "The hardest part is that my community of faith is now scattered. We've just all gone to various parts of the state. I'm just hoping everyone is okay."

The Rev. Art Reppenhagen, a retired pastor who has served Big Coppitt United Methodist Church for 21 years, says he and his family are staying.

"You can't outrun these things. You just have to buckle down and do the best you can," he said.

Reppenhagen has lived in the Keys for 37 years and says he has been through "George and everything." His home is two blocks from the ocean, and after Hurricane Georges hit the Keys in 1998 he said there was nearly three feet of water in his yard. "I lost my shed, my washer and drier...there were fish swimming through my front yard...and I'm still staying here," he said.

He says not knowing if they'd be able to get back to the Keys after the storm hits or find a place to stay or have enough gas to leave and get home, as well and not knowing exactly where the storm will hit, is keeping him and his wife, Doris, home.

"We're concerned, but I don't know what we face on the road," he said. "No matter where you go you can run right into it."

During Hurricane Andrew he said people from the Keys evacuated to the Homestead-Miami area, and that's where the storm finally made landfall. He also said he experienced difficulties during Hurricane Charley while trying to get back to his home after a meeting in Jacksonville was canceled and doesn't want to go through the same thing again.

Reppenhagen said he and his wife are prepared. They have metal shutters on their windows. They have enough food and water, and they worked in their yard to remove debris that could become dangerous. They've also contacted members of their church to make sure everyone is okay.

He says the hardest part of the experience so far has been dealing with the anxiety.

"You hear all this on the media, and it gets people excited. Everyone is a nervous wreck," he said. "It just creates an atmosphere and it takes hold and people just do crazy things."

"People don't know what to do. They are at a loss. Do you stay or do you go?" he added.

His motto: maintain your cool and deal with whatever happens. "That's all you can do," he said.


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