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Life in Ft. Myers after Hurricane Charley ( Aug. 16, 2004)

Life in Ft. Myers after Hurricane Charley ( Aug. 16, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Life in Ft. Myers after Hurricane Charley

Aug. 16, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0139}

NOTE:  A headshot of Patch is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By the Rev. Dr. Sharon Patch**

It is a little after 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 15, and this is the first time I've had the ability to send or receive e-mail. The phone lines and electricity are still off in most of Lee and Charlotte counties. I came up to Clearwater for a hot bath and a good night's air-conditioned sleep before attending the meeting [disaster response planning] in Orlando tomorrow and returning to the trenches.

PUNTA GORDA — Christ United Methodist Church here was one of a number of churches in the Ft. Myers District damaged by Hurricane Charley. Both the sactuary and education and offices buildings were affected. The hurricane made landfall in the Ft. Myers area as a category four hurricane. Photo by Jim Patch, Photo #04-0065.

I've visited and spoken with most of our churches. Christ and Cleveland United Methodist churches in Punta Gorda and Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral have serious damage and lost a significant portion of their roofs, with water soaking interiors. Education and office buildings were damaged, as well as the sanctuaries at both the Christ and Cleveland churches and the parsonage at Christ church. We're not sure yet about the Cleveland church parsonage because the pastor, the Rev. Ralph Young, has been away on vacation, but is returning this evening. He was not due to return for another two weeks, but headed back to Cleveland when he heard about the storm and could not reach anyone from his church.

The Rev. Jorge Acevedo reported the damage at Grace church to the conference's risk manager the evening of the storm, and by 7:30 a.m. the next morning the conference's claims adjuster had a crew at the church to replace the roof. What a great testimony to our connection and its response to a church in need.

I was touched when I arrived at Christ, Punta Gorda, and found about 15 members of the church gathered for worship amidst debris and soaking pews, singing songs of praise. The Rev. Charles Carroll was filling in for the pastor, who was on vacation. Rev. Carroll is a United Methodist pastor from another conference. The mobile home in which he and his wife reside year-round was totally destroyed in the storm, yet he was there to lead this congregation in worship. Amazing!

At First United Methodist Church, Punta Gorda, I arrived amidst the hoopla of President George W. Bush's visit, which basically meant those of us trying to reach the church were tied up in traffic for an additional 45 minutes. Yet, the church, which is sitting in the midst of terrible destruction all around them, has met for three worship services today. No air conditioning, no lights, no sound system, not even any bathrooms, yet the people have come to worship and to pray for missing neighbors. Few have escaped serious damage to their homes and businesses. They are offering to be a site to provide hot meals since they have gas cooking facilities and an ice machine...all they need is water and a generator.

PUNTA GORDA — At Cleveland United Methodist Church here members gathered Sunday to inspect the damage to the church's property. Punta Gorda and other communities in the Ft. Myers District were some of the hardest hit, experiencing Hurricane Charley as a category four hurricane when it made landfall there. Photo by Jim Patch, Photo #04-0066.

At the Cleveland church a handful of faithful members gathered to inspect the damage to their facilities. There were tears in their eyes and in mine as we saw what Charley had done. Their pastor was on vacation, and the person who was to fill in had not yet arrived, so we joined hands and prayed for the church, its neighbors and the unaccounted-for members of their church, many who lived in mobile homes that cannot be reached because of the downed trees and power lines blocking the roads. With no phones, no cell phone service, no water, no power...these people feel like abandoned islands. It was a testimony to their faith that they were able to laugh and praise God for life and have hope for the rebuilding of their church.

I have been blessed by the numerous calls from pastors of other congregations in our district and around the conference who want to help. They are poised and ready. Some were coming to Punta Gorda to begin helping with the cleanup this afternoon.

It is at times like this that I am most proud to be a United Methodist. Our bishop has been regularly in contact with me over these past two days, and I am grateful for his guidance and support. I thank everyone for their calls, e-mails and prayers.


This commentary 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.
**Patch is superintendent of the Florida Conference's Ft. Myers District.