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Leaders urge members to prepare as hurricane season begins

Leaders urge members to prepare as hurricane season begins

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Leaders urge members to prepare as hurricane season begins

By John Michael De Marco | June 1, 2010 {1177}

Florida United Methodists are urged to think and plan ahead now for what is predicted to be the most active hurricane season in years, and with a new twist: a massive oil spill growing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hurricane Wilma approaches Florida Oct. 23, 2005. It made landfall the next day as a Category 3 storm. Photo by Jeff Schmaltz, NASA Visible Earth.

Reuters reported May 26 that the threat of an above-average 2010 Atlantic hurricane season — which begins today and ends Nov. 30 — has increased during the last month, according to hurricane forecast guru William Gray. “The numbers are going to go up quite high,” Gray said. “This looks like a hell of a year.”

Marilyn Swanson, project director of the Florida Conference’s Disaster Recovery Ministry, last week attended the state’s annual hurricane conference. Swanson said Florida Gov. Charlie emphasized that the state of Florida has worked with businesses, as well as volunteer and state agencies, to prepare for hurricane season and he encouraged families and individuals to prepare, as well.

According to Reuters, Gray and Phil Klotzbach, lead forecaster with the Colorado State University team, both said forecast models showing a recent shift in wind patterns and warm tropical Atlantic waters reinforced the likelihood that a busy hurricane season was on its way. They referred specifically to reduced wind shear probabilities due to the dissipation of the El Niño weather phenomenon over the Pacific Ocean.

Both Gray and Klotzbach said a powerful storm, particularly if it comes out of the western portion of the Gulf, could propel large quantities of oil ashore in the northern Gulf in the aftermath of BP’s still-spouting oil leak.

In the face of such ominous ambiguity, a pastor who was a South Florida district superintendent during the storms that battered the state in 2004 and 2005, advises churches to focus on the factors they can control should a hurricane or tropical storm threaten the state.

Trinity United Methodist Church in Arcadia was one of many buildings and homes damaged during Hurricane Charley in 2004. It was also a point of operations for relief to the area, with church members providing food and water to residents affected by the storm. Arcadia is 20 to 30 miles from Port Charlotte, where the hurricane made landfall. File photo by the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin. Photo #04-0062. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0138, 08/14/08. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery.

The Rev. Deborah McLeod, now senior pastor at Mandarin United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, was superintendent of the conference’s Broward Palm Beach District and then South East District during a host of hurricanes, including Frances, Jeanne, Rita, Katrina, Dennis and Wilma. McLeod recalls seeing damage all the way from Jupiter to Big Coppitt Key.

“I think it’s important to be intentional about preparing the church property — knowing who is going to do what,” McLeod said. “There’s a lot of simple things you can do, such as covering computers, sound boards and musical instruments with plastic. It takes a little bit of time, but can make a big difference. No one is planning for the ceiling to fall in. I saw a lot of damage that happened because no one thought to cover things.”

Backing up records is also key, McLeod said. After the hurricanes of 2004, she said, 10 to 12 days passed before electricity started working again. She encourages churches to ask themselves, “What are things you need a hard copy of?”

Churches need a plan to take care of church facilities, but they also need a plan to take care of members and neighbors. One example, McLeod said, is to check on shut-ins ahead of time to learn where they are going to be.

“Churches can do something to prepare to help their neighbors,” she added. “Think about, ‘Would we be able to prepare a hot meal? Do we have a gas stove or a generator?’ It’s a wonderful possibility for ministry. I really saw that at the United Methodist Church of the Palm Beaches. They really took care of their neighbors. There were particular neighborhoods where the church had tried often to get a foothold in. It wasn’t until the hurricane where people were really willing to trust the church and come to church and make new friends.”

First United Methodist Church in Punta Gorda provided ice, food, water and hot meals to residents after Hurricane Charley hit the area in 2004. While crews worked to repair damage to the sanctuary and other church buildings caused by the storm, volunteers unloaded trucks of food and trunks filled with ice and distributed both to people in the community affected by the Category 4 hurricane. File photo by Michael Wacht. Photo #04-0080. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0149, 08/25/08. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery.

On the flip side, McLeod said, she was “pretty ashamed when I would drive by a United Methodist church that was closed up and there were people all around trying to clean up their yards.”

“There was one old woman in her house dress dragging heavy limbs to the street, right next to a United Methodist church,” she said. “This made my heart sink — that they didn’t notice their neighbors.”

Reflecting back on the 2004-05 seasons, McLeod said sometimes the churches that were doing a great job organizing and caring for their elderly were small churches. “It takes a lot of hands to get things ready. It shouldn’t be all left to the pastor,” she said.

McLeod encourages pastors and church leaders to leverage the conference’s hurricane preparedness workshops and website resources at Disaster Recovery staff also encourage churches to visit and for tips on how to prepare.

Florida has not experienced a major hurricane in several years, a time period during which property insurance rates that had skyrocketed during the middle of the last decade finally began to abate.

“The good work of our (conference) Ministry Protection team and the research they’ve done, through our self-insurance and extra carriers has made a big impact on costs going down,” McLeod said. “It also helps that we haven’t had an active hurricane system in a while.”

A more intangible factor to contend with, McLeod said, is the fear and anxiety of people who have lived through devastating storms, such as Andrew and Charley.

“We have to be the people who reassure folks that our God is a refuge, and we have a resource greater than our need in Jesus Christ,” McLeod said. “A very short prayer service as a hurricane is approaching would be good, and then let people go because they are anxious to go home and get things ready.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant based in Nashville, Tenn.