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Florida residents not exempt from fear for loved ones

Florida residents not exempt from fear for loved ones

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida residents not exempt from fear for loved ones

Sept. 15, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0365}

NOTE:  Churches across the conference are responding to the needs of hurricane survivors. This is one of a series of articles on local church and district-wide relief efforts that will be included in e-Review coverage of the conference's hurricane response.

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

LARGO — The emotional turmoil caused by Hurricane Katrina wasn't restricted to the flooded or washed out streets of New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss.

Pam Beyersdorf, business administrator for Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Largo, felt the same fear and uncertainty countless others were feeling when she was unable to contact her son, a New Orleans resident, after the storm hit the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts.

James Beyersdorf, 34, his wife Erika, 32, and 9-year-old son Drew survived the storm, after choosing to "ride it out" in their French Quarter home.

"I always knew in my spirit that they were safe," Pam said. "But as we watched the TV, I just would cry. Not knowing is what faith is all about, and I did have a discussion with our Lord about how I am a bit of an in-charge type of person ... and that not knowing did not feel particularly good."

Beyersdorf did not learn of her son's safety until a few days after the storm, when James and Erika at last were able to make a call from their cell phone.

"Wednesday night, after six hours driving north, we finally had cell phone service and tried to call everyone, but all lines were clogged," James said. "The first person we got through to called Pam for us, and she called Erika's mom, and information traveled through a chain of calls."

After learning of her son's family's safety, Beyersdorf said she continued to pray and praise God.

"The sacrifice of praise is such a lesson for us," she said. "And I continue to pray for those people who still do not know where members of their families are — and friends — and all those lives (that) have been forever changed by this storm and its aftermath."

James, Erika and Drew had remained in their home until Wednesday when they realized that power would not be restored any time soon and the water pressure in their home was failing. Before the storm, they felt secure in their decision to stay, after having plenty of practice with hurricanes last summer when they lived in Ormond Beach, Fla., which suffered through three hurricanes, James said.

"After 'hunkering down' last year in our beachside home in Ormond Beach ... for three hurricanes — Charley, Frances and Jeanne — we felt prepared with supplies and secure with our location to ride out the storm," James said.

Unlike many New Orleans homes, the Beyersdorf house fared well through one of the worst natural disasters in United States history.

"When we left (New Orleans) our home was in great condition, with no damage from the hurricane or subsequent flooding," James said. " ... I can only hope that our home has not been the target of looting or fire."

When the family left town, they did so with just a quarter tank of gas, barely arriving at the first gas station that still had gas, just outside Baton Rouge, La.

"Even though many people heard there was no way out, I-10 west was dry and clear and easy to get to from the Quarter," James said. " ... We were one of the only cars on the road, except for the buses and buses of prisoners being evacuated."

Their quest for gas continued as they made their way to Florida, where they would stay with James' parents.

"It was even harder to find gas in Mississippi," James said. "We saw up to 50 cars of people sleeping in cars, stranded at gas stations with no gas. We thought we might end up stranded, too."

After 22 hours of traveling, the family arrived at their destination. They stayed for about 10 days at Beyersdorf's house in Largo with all the comforts of home and plenty of room for their pets — two dogs and a cat.

While waiting for the city to "reopen," James and Erika will reside in the Ormond Beach home they still own, and Drew will attend school there. Meanwhile, James will maintain his employment with the Charles Schwab corporation, where he works as a financial consultant. The company has made arrangements for him to work from Ormond Beach.

Additionally, the company provided the family with emergency funds to ensure the family's shelter and basic needs were met, for which James expresses his thanks.

"I would also like to thank my parents for letting us stay with them and everyone out there who was thinking about us," he said.

Of the lessons learned from this catastrophe, the family says: "Always keep your gas tank full!" They also said they would probably evacuate the city in the event of another hurricane, instead of riding it out.

"Even though we suffered no damage personally or to our property, everyone knew we chose not to evacuate before Katrina," James said. " ... We regretfully caused much grief and fear for our friends and family over the days following Katrina until we were able to get back in touch with them. ... A positive result of this ordeal was realizing how many people really care about us and what a great support system we have — we would never be homeless."

As for the future of the famous city, James would like to see New Orleans rebuilt.

"I hope that it can be built with a modern infrastructure and still retain its historical significance," he said. "Since the people of New Orleans are very proud of their city, I am hopeful (for) a unified rebuilding."

How churches and members can help

* Gather supplies for Florida and other affected statesFor Florida: Migrant workers in South Florida were hard hit by Hurricane Katrina. Florida City United Methodist Church/Florida City Hispanic Mission is collecting rice and beans, non-perishable food stuffs, diapers, health kits, new men's blue jeans in small and medium sizes, new men's t-shirts (or clean t-shirts in good condition) and baby clothes. Call Diane Gutierrez at 305-247-0911 to arrange for delivery of items. Health kit items can be found at For other states: The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) no longer needs donations of bottled water, but other items are in short supply, including health kits, school kits, new sets of twin sheets, new pillows, new blankets and new air mattresses. Health and school kit items and packaging instructions may be found at Items can be sent to the Florida Conference Disaster Response Depot in Madison (call to make delivery arrangements: 850-869-0882 or 850-929-4938) or UMCOR's Sager Brown Depot, P.O. Box 850, 131 Sager Brown Road, Baldwin, LA 70514-0850 (please also provide $1.00 per kit to cover distribution costs and send it to Sager Brown UMCOR Advance #982730, "Contain Your Joy").

* Organize volunteer teams — Teams wanting to work in Florida or affected areas in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi should contact the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) at 800-282-8011, extension 149.

* Donate — to UMCOR Advance No. 982523, "Hurricanes 2005 Global." Contributions can be made online at, at local churches or by phone at 800-554-8583. Checks should include the Advance number and name on the memo line. Checks given at local churches should be made payable to the local church. Checks mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068 should be made payable to UMCOR. Checks to support recovery in a specific region should reflect that.

Individuals looking for family members or friends who live in affected areas should call the Salvation Army at 847-709-6700 or the American Red Cross at 800-435-7669.

The SRC can be reached at 800-282-8011, extension 149.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.