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Work teams still needed in Florida after hurricanes

Work teams still needed in Florida after hurricanes

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Work teams still needed in Florida after hurricanes

Feb. 10, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0440}

An e-Review Feature
By Nancy E. Johnson**

ARCADIA — Residents in Arcadia are still living in trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the 2004 hurricane season. Photo by the Rev. David Harris, Photo #06-306, accompanies e-Review Florida UMNS #0440.

Communities throughout South Florida are still struggling to rebuild after being battered and bruised by the multiple hurricanes that have hit state, and with another hurricane season just four months away, the need to repair damaged homes has become even more urgent.

Volunteer work teams are needed to respond to the region's ongoing needs. The Florida Conference Storm Recovery Center (SRC) is asking churches and members to help.

Hurricane Wilma whipped Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, along with the Florida Keys. Residents there received a double-whammy as they continued to recover from the 2004 hurricanes. When Katrina ravaged Gulf Coast communities outside Florida, many work teams rushed there to help, leaving people in South Florida with significant hurricane damage and a desperate need for help.

"Our teams work with on-site contractors. We rebuild roofs, put in plumbing, carpet and flooring. Then there's drywall and electricity. Sometimes we need a mason," said Lin Arnold-Skrovanek, manager of the SRC.

Volunteer teams are rebuilding in 20 Florida counties, with workers coming from all over the country. The SRC matches teams with a case manager and contractor in the affected area.

"Our teams focus on rebuilding," Arnold-Skrovanek said. "A lot of people may live in a house with damaged walls, mold, holes in the roof, no air conditioning. Our teams help them get back to normal."

One of the areas still suffering is the Florida Keys. The Rev. Greer Jensen is pastor of Big Pine United Methodist Church, located in the lower Keys. "The people here rebounded after Dennis, Rita and Katrina, but with a five-foot tidal surge, Wilma wiped people out," she said.

Greer estimates 30,000 Keys residents are living in storm-damaged homes. She said they desperately need more work teams to help remove mold and rebuild walls.

"These are resilient people. They don't need the touchy-feely psychological help," Greer said. "We need people with strong backs and strong arms."

Greer blames the slow recovery response on the lack of national media attention in the aftermath of Wilma. She says America has no idea how much devastation there is inside many of the homes. She points to many of the working poor who she says are afraid to speak up about the damage in their houses.

"These people are suffering in silence. A lot don't dare open their mouths because Monroe County will condemn their property. Then where will they go," she said.

The SRC is working with South Florida Urban Ministries to send work teams to these storm-ravaged areas. The outreach ministry in the South East District of the conference is identifying the most critical needs in each community.

PEMBROKE PINES — Members of Epworth United Methodist Church install a blue tarp on the roof of a resident's home in the neighborhood around the church. Blue tarps were a common sight after Hurricane Wilma blew through the area last year, but they continue to dot communities in South Florida while storm-damaged homes wait for repairs. Photo by Tita Parham, Photo #06-307.

"In several counties, you still see tarp on roofs," said Brent Hursey-McLaughlin, director of South Florida Urban Ministries. "There's a huge backlog to get roofing companies to come out."

Because there have been so many hurricanes in the past couple years, most contractors are overloaded with work. That's why there's such a big need for work teams to step in and help with repairs.

"Month after month drags on. We're getting closer to another hurricane season. The big fear is that another storm could turn into a catastrophe," Hursey-McLaughlin said.

Arnold-Skrovanek encourages individuals who are looking for volunteer opportunities in storm recovery to contact the SRC, which is looking for teams that include people with many skills — carpentry, chain-saw operation, plumbing, masonry. Sometimes, volunteers who can organize children's activities or provide mental health counseling are also needed.

"These people have no money, no insurance. They live check to check. Unless volunteers go in, they don't get help," Arnold-Skrovanek said.

And often, there's no quick fix for people who've endured hurricane after hurricane. "We can take teams long-term, all year long," she said. "This isn't something you can rebuild in just six months."

Individuals or groups interested in being part of a work team should go to the conference Web site at and complete the disaster response volunteer team application.


This article relates to Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Nancy E. Johnson is a Florida-based, freelance television and print journalist.