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Preparations for Wilma are business as usual

Preparations for Wilma are business as usual

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Preparations for Wilma are business as usual

Oct. 20, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0385}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham

Photo courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Web photo only.
After experiencing three hurricanes last year and hurricanes Dennis, Katrina and Rita this year, getting ready for another hurricane is nothing new for the storm-weary Florida Conference.

Church leaders and members are seriously preparing for Hurricane Wilma, but many see it as just one more storm.

Monroe County Emergency Management officials asked visitors and non-residents in the Keys to evacuate Wednesday. Residents were asked to voluntarily begin leaving today.

At his home in Marathon Wednesday night, the Rev. Steven Bruns said he and his wife and three girls, ages 4, 2 and 4 months old, would be among the evacuees.

Bruns is pastor of Marathon Community United Methodist Church, located in the middle of the chain of islands that make up the Florida Keys and part of the conference's South East District. He said most of the church's members — about 118 — are also leaving. Hurricane Katrina and everything that happened related to that storm helped people make up their minds to go.

"When Rita came through we had people evacuate who wouldn't have normally evacuated," he said, adding the strength of Wilma "has people really shaken," mostly because of the storm surge it could cause.

Bruns has evacuated twice already — during Katrina and Rita. He stayed during Hurricane Dennis.

"You come to a decision about what is irreplaceable and what isn't. Then, you look in your car and see how much fits," he said. "We've got kids and pets and pictures. That's it for us."

He said most people are tying up loose ends. The church's trustees have checked on the church building to make sure everything is secure. People are preparing to leave; it's just a matter of when, at this point.

"Lots of people remember (hurricane) Andrew. It took almost 21 hours to go from Marathon to Orlando," he said.

Not everyone is leaving, however. The Rev. John Webb said Wednesday night he is "anticipating sticking around at this point in time."

Webb is pastor of Key West United Methodist Church, located on the last of the chain of islands.

He's just not all that worried. Forecasters are projecting the storm will slow, so there's still several days to check on its movement. He has also had experience weathering a storm. He stayed on the island during Katrina and Rita, but did leave for Ivan.

"If it (Wilma) was a Category 5 and bearing down on us, it would be a different story," he said, adding very few in his congregation are leaving.

"We still have our Wednesday evening pot luck dinner. We still have our men's breakfast Thursday morning," Webb said before heading to the dinner. "We will close the office at noon tomorrow to give people time to batten down the hatches."

In the rest of the South East District — Miami-Dade and Broward counties — Bob Ladner says it's really too early for people to be overly concerned.

"No one today is getting seriously bent out of shape, but tomorrow may be a different story," he said.

Ladner is the disaster response coordinator for the district. He and district office staff are following the routine they know so well. The southern part of the state has been affected more than any other during this hurricane season, with the exception of the Gulf Coast area in the bend of the state, which was hit by Hurricane Dennis.

Ladner said the district office has gotten some calls from churches expressing concern. Others called him to keep him abreast of their preparations. A few members asked him for advice. He says, "Hunker down for some nasty weather and check your TV every five hours."

The Rev. David Harris, disaster response coordinator for the South West District of the conference, said the level of concern all depends on an individual's mindset, where they live and what they've already experienced.

ARCADIA — A 2004 hurricane victim is leased into her FEMA mobile home at the group site in Arcadia. 2004 FEMA photo by Andrea Booher. Photo #05-254.

Harris is pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Arcadia, a town that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Charley. He said there are still hundreds of families in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Arcadia and DeSoto County.

He said Wednesday night most people were not too worried because the storm was projected to weaken in the Gulf, but reports earlier that day that Wilma had become the most intense hurricane on record raised anxiety levels. Some members of his church have left the area.

He says he and his church have been through it all before. "It's old hat," he said. "It's just a matter of being ready."

And they are getting ready. Harris and the district's five disaster coordinators, each in charge of a certain number of counties in the district, have begun the routine — notifying churches to begin their preparations, such as securing property and checking on church members, checking in with the county emergency management. He said it's the "general kinds of stuff you need to do to get ready."

He's also personally preparing, filling his car with gas, stocking up on supplies, like water and batteries, gathering medications. "I'm no good to the community if I don't take care of my family," he said.

The rest of the conference is also on alert. Conference staff in Lakeland are considering which tasks they'll do - driving trucks filled with supplies to affected areas, staffing phones, assisting with communication — to help with recovery as needed, and staff in the Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) in Lakeland say they're ready.

"We've met with district and UMVIM coordinators. The storm center is ready to receive teams. We held an early response team training yesterday (Tuesday). We're ready," said Marilyn Swanson, the SRC's project director.

Conference leaders sent an e-mail message to churches and conference groups Wednesday urging them to follow the list of preparations that have been posted on the Florida Conference Web site for months. Those preparations include making sure members are safe, gearing up for any community efforts that may be needed after the storm and protecting church structures that were damaged in previous storms.

Swanson said this storm will likely bring "damage upon damage." Repairs are still being made to homes and church facilities damaged during the 2004 hurricane season.

It's pretty much business as usual, though. "We've had a little practice. We've done this before," Swanson said.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

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