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Storm season swirls into action

Storm season swirls into action

LAKELAND – Former Tropical Storm Chantal, blamed for at least one death in the Dominican Republic, has fizzled into something weather experts call a "tropical wave" projected to move over parts of Florida by Friday.

Though not expected to be a huge threat, it's the second brush with nature's fury of the 2013 Florida hurricane season. On June 6, less than a week into the storm season, Tropical Storm Andrea brought tornadoes and torrential rain to much of Florida, tearing off roofs, downing trees and flooding some parts of the state.

NOAA satellite photo of Tropical Storm Andrea
This satellite image shows Tropical Storm Andrea plaguing the East Coast in early June. Photo by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The winds and rain serve as a reminder that local churches should have a disaster plan in place, not only for worshipers but the communities they serve, said Pam Garrison, manager for the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry.

Little damage to United Methodist churches in Florida was reported last year, but many communities are still struggling to repair and rebuild after Tropical Storm Debby dumped way too much water in many areas of the state.

"We're not in a drought anymore," Garrison noted. "If we get a rainmaker like Tropical Storm Debby that parks itself … it's going to be hard."

Churches and the shelter or services they can provide have become particularly important with the rise in numbers of homeless people, she said.

However, church properties can also be vulnerable. Clergy living in parsonages would be wise to get renters' insurance, Garrison said, noting that last year a parsonage in the North West District was so damaged that the pastor had to move out.

"That pastor lost everything," she said.

In 2004-05, when the Sunshine State hosted a series of storms and hurricanes, churches in the Florida Conference sustained at least $50 million in damages, based on insurance claims, reported Mark Thomas, Ministry Protection director for the conference.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief provided about $5 million to the Florida Conference for long-term recovery efforts following those storms, Garrison recalled.

The conference's Disaster Recovery Ministry offers resources for church disaster planning, including a pre-storm checklist for shutting down, placing sandbags and taking other precautions to protect campus structures.

The ministry also offers ways to help hard-hit communities and a list of training opportunities for church leaders who want to branch into emergency and spiritual response ministry in their neighborhoods.

The conference also encourages members to stay tuned to local media reports for storm alerts, particularly during hurricane season, and take advantage of advice on websites and in printed hurricane guides, such as those provided free by Publix Supermarkets.

"People need to pay attention to what the media are saying," Garrison said. "If they say evacuate, evacuate."

To access the resources offered by the Florida Conference, including contact information for disaster response coordinators in all nine districts, click here. For additional assistance, contact Garrison at or 1-800-282-8011, ext. 148.

-- Susan Green is the editor of the Florida Conference Connection.