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Storm recovery continues in Florida

Storm recovery continues in Florida

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Storm recovery continues in Florida

March 21, 2008     News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011    Orlando {0818}

NOTE: This article was produced and distributed Feb. 21 by United Methodist Committee on Relief.

An e-Review Feature
By Susan J. Meister**

In October 2005 a hurricane-weary nation experienced Wilma, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. After destroying parts of the Yucatan Peninsula, Wilma turned northeast and on Oct. 24 crossed South Florida in four and a half hours.

Lucy (left), whose Belle Glade home was moved off its 40 original pilings during Hurricane Wilma, takes a break with a Christian Reformed World Relief Committee volunteer who was on the job sanding new drywall seams. An UMCOR photo by Susan J. Meister. Photo #08-0785. Web photo only.

Through the generosity of donors, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) was able to help several annual conferences, including Florida, respond to the damage left in the wake of Wilma and the other storms of 2005.

“We used funds from UMCOR to support a number of local organizations mobilized to help with relief and recovery in the southern part of the state,” said Marilyn Swanson, project director for the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry.

One of those organizations is CREW, which continues to provide relief to Clewiston, Fla., and surrounding areas.

Local church takes lead in relief, recovery efforts

Located in Hendry County on the southwest corner of Lake Okeechobee, Clewiston is a town of about 6,500 people.

In September 2005, the Rev. John Hicks, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Clewiston, was working to revitalize the Clewiston Ministerial Association around a benefit for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. A month later Wilma roared through town, and the church became a key distribution center for relief supplies.

Hicks was also asked by the mayor to take the lead in establishing a long term recovery organization (LTRO) for Hendry and nearby Glades County. With that, CREW (Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce) was launched, drawing strong ecumenical, community and business support. The Florida Conference assigned Gricel Hernandez to be the disaster recovery representative for the area, to offer organizational advice, network with vital contacts and provide encouragement.

More than two years after CREW began its work, Executive Director Trish Adams points to a number of accomplishments.

“Since our inception, we have hosted 515 volunteers who have logged over 15,000 hours of work making repairs to walls, ceilings, floors, roofs, cabinets, siding, skirting and windows and doing demolition and debris cleanup,” she said. Local churches have hosted groups with housing and meals.

“In all, we have assisted over 765 families in the two counties,” Adams said. “Our case managers have done a remarkable job to reach and assist homeowners.”

The ‘house made out of miracles’

One rebuild CREW completed was for Mr. Joachin and Miss Rachel. Today, the homeowners and CREW staff eagerly relate story after story to prove the new home is a “house made out of miracles.”

Trish Adams, executive director of CREW (Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce), estimates the organization has helped repair and rebuild the homes of more than 765 families in Glades and Hendry counties damaged by hurricanes that have hit Florida since 2004. Photo courtesy of CREW. Photo #08-0786. Web photo only.

The day the case manager interviewed the couple — who were an unexpected addition to the contact list — a volunteer group from Indiana called to say they wanted to spend time in the area and build a house.

“The deadline was impossible,” Mr. Joachin said, “but the Lord’s hand was in it. The day we poured the concrete, it rained all around us, everywhere but at our house!”

After the initial blitz, volunteers from Maine, Michigan, Washington, Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland helped.

“I used to make fun of snowbirds,” Mr. Joachin laughed. “I don’t anymore!”

Case managers, volunteers keep spirits up

When Wilma crossed South Florida, winds of up to 125 miles per hours lashed homes and businesses. Many of the areas affected were still struggling to recover from Hurricanes Jeanne and Frances, which hit the state in 2004.

Belle Glade, located in west Palm Beach County, was one of the communities that felt the brunt of those storms.

A team of “green shirts” from Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) returned there last January to reassess the status of homeowners. The last needs assessment of Hurricanes Jeanne and Frances had been finished in September 2005, just before Wilma went through the area. Volunteer Yogi Haardyk, from Calgary, Alberta Province, Canada, said he is amazed at the ongoing “resiliency and optimism of the people.”

Lucy is one homeowner whose optimism is a testament to the care she received from volunteers. Lucy said the ongoing attention she received from case managers at Christians Reaching Out to Society (C.R.O.S. Ministries) and volunteers with CRWRC helped her maintain a positive attitude. C.R.O.S. Ministries is an outreach ministry of the Florida Conference. It has been helping with outreach and case management in Palm Beach County.

“(Case managers) Katie and Mayra would come because of how much time it had been since Wilma,” Lucy said. “The winds of Hurricane Wilma shifted the house off its foundation and lifted shingles off the roof, causing walls to crumble and fall in two bedrooms. I was so depressed that the house was going to fall before it could be fixed.”

Lucy used her insurance settlement to reset 40 pilings under the house. Case managers from C.R.O.S. helped with paperwork, offered support and encouragement, and connected her with the CRWRC volunteers who helped repair the roof and drywall.

CREW (Community Rebuilding Ecumenical Workforce) works with a variety of businesses and ecumenical and community groups to rebuild and repair homes damaged by hurricanes that have hit South Florida communities since 2004. Executive Director Trish Adams estimates approximately 515 volunteers — like these from Samaritan's Purse — have logged more than 15,000 hours of service working on people’s homes. Photo courtesy of CREW. Photo #08-0787. Web photo only.

Mary, another survivor helped by C.R.O.S., had extensive water damage and mold throughout her home. Because of her breathing problems she had to sleep in her living room until AmeriCorps volunteers helped repair the roof and CRWRC volunteers helped repair the ceilings, walls and floor in December 2007.

“I used to be a social worker myself,” Mary said. “I always told my clients to be self-sufficient. It was hard for me to ask for help.”

More than rebuilds

Through its partnership with Volunteer Florida Foundation’s disaster recovery program, CREW is also involved with the Mitigation Program through My Safe Florida Home and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Close-Out Program.

Through mitigation, homeowners strengthen their homes against natural disasters. Shutters will be installed on Mr. Joachin’s home as part of this program. The FEMA program helps survivors find permanent housing solutions, including helping pay to site and set up mobile homes according to county regulations.

CREW set a goal of mitigating 100 homes in Glades and Hendry counties and completing mobile home set up by the end of January 2008.

Substantial rebuilding and repair work needs to be completed in both counties. CREW is continuing to secure funding and volunteers. More information about the area’s needs is available on CREW’s Web site at and blog spot at


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Meister is the domestic disaster response correspondent for United Methodist Committee on Relief.