Disaster Response to Hurricane Idalia presents different challengesDisaster Recovery
As The Florida Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, Trish Warren is familiar with the challenges hurricane season brings to the state. But even by those standards, the damage wrought by Hurricane Idalia on Aug. 30 presented unusual hurdles to getting people the help they needed in the storm’s aftermath.
“The challenge with this recovery is that it’s so spread out,” she said.
While the Big Bend area of northern Florida took a direct hit from the storm that reached Category 4 status, areas up and down the west coast of the state had serious impacts. There was flooding as far south as Fort Myers as Idalia snaked up the coast, ravaging beaches and bringing storm surges fueled by winds that surpassed 130 miles per hour in some places.
This came just 11 months after Category 4 Ian blasted parts of Southwest Florida.
“There’s a lot of additional trauma to the Ian survivors with this hurricane,” Warren said. “And another issue we’re having in the North West District is finding housing for all the volunteers because of the disaffiliations in that area. Normally, they could just stay at a church while they work.
“I feel like we’re always asking for something because there has been such an increase in disasters. But people need to know that we’re just not getting the same level of help that we used to.”
In just the last two years, Warren’s team provided assistance at the Surfside condo collapse in South Florida, flooding in Broward County, an EF2 tornado that struck South West Florida, Hurricane Ian, and now Idalia.
|The hurricane snapped pine trees like toothpicks (Photo courtesy of Rev. Alex Shanks)|
But despite the challenges, members of The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church combined with friends and strangers from other denominations to help meet the needs in their communities. Bishop Tom Berlin urged that to continue.
“We pray for our United Methodist witness as people donate supplies, donate material resources or volunteer time,” he told UM News.
“We pray that it might encourage people in this area and be a witness for the love of Christ from our church.”
Warren joined Bishop Berlin, Assistant to the Bishop Alex Shanks, and North West District Superintendent Clarke Campbell-Evans in touring affected areas on the day after the storm.
“We are grateful for the response of volunteer teams, and we wanted to show support for them and see the damage first-hand ourselves,” Rev. Shanks said. “For instance, Cedar Key UMC has been through a lot of hurricanes, but this is the first time their building had flooding.
“We know that there likely will be more hurricanes this season, so our message to the churches is to be prepared. Get your plan ready now.”
Idalia blasted ashore in Taylor County, knocking over trees, power lines, and flooding streets and houses in Perry and other communities. Like many pastors throughout the area, Rev. James Taylor of First Perry UMC has been working almost around the clock to help get his town and congregation back on its feet.
“It’s been busy, but a lot of good things have happened,” he said. “This little town, Perry, we’ve always had a good relationship as far as pastors go. The churches work together really well, but this has been special. It runs across denominations, race, and all that stuff. Pretty much every church is involved in helping the community now.
“Taylor is one of those counties where people come here with a pioneer spirit. They know how to use a chainsaw and fix things. It’s neighbor helping neighbor. It’s wonderful to see.”
Rev. Taylor’s church had some flooding and roof damage, but power was restored in time for a Holy Communion service just four days after the storm.
“Music was just me with a guitar,” he said. “We modified our song list because our bulletins were still wet from the flooding. But it was important just to be able to get together and worship.”
Rev. Taylor is a former chaplain in the U.S. Air Force and has been involved in providing hurricane relief when other storms struck Florida in past years.
“For me, this is kind of strange. I’ve always been on the other end giving relief work, but now I’m on the receiving end,” he said. “I want to get out there and help, but I need to make sure things are okay here.”
|Volunteers left donations on the steps of First Perry UMC (photo courtesy of Rev. James Taylor)|
First Perry UMC became a reception point for donations of supplies from as far away as South Carolina. If no one was at the church to receive the goods, volunteers left them on the front steps.
The donations included diapers, tarps, food, and other necessities.
“That was such a help because the stores were closed for several days after the storm,” Rev. Taylor said. “So, we left them on the steps where people could just take what they needed. They have been really good about not taking more than they need.”
He was also impressed that Bishop Berlin and his team came to get a first-hand look.
“That meant a lot,” he said. “Having the support of the Conference sends a great message to our members.”
Warren added, “He was very calm. He has definitely studied our Conference disaster plan. He was eager to get out to those pastors and let them know we were here for them.”
Meanwhile, the cleanup continues. Warren estimated the recovery could take up to three years. But while that continues, Rev. Taylor has a message.
“We’re open for business,” he said. “We’ll keep on ringing the bell and keep on preaching the gospel.”
Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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