FLUMC Disaster Response Team lends helping hand in Fort MyersDisaster Recovery
On the morning of January 16, five tornadoes struck Lee County and other parts of Southwest Florida. The largest one, a powerful F2 storm, tore through the unincorporated village of Iona with 118 miles per hour winds, damaging 108 homes.
For Trish Warren and the Disaster Response Team in The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, it was time to go work. She joined Disaster Response Front Team members Steve Potter and Scott Schroeder to go to the scene and assess the damage.
Disaster recovery is a major outreach for the Conference and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Florida volunteers recently went to Tennessee to help with efforts there after the tornado outbreak in December. And last summer, they were on the scene after the condo collapse in the Miami suburb of Surfside.
In Fort Myers, they followed the standard procedure to help.
Coordinating with other relief agencies, a team of volunteers worked to help people affected by the storm find temporary shelter or make quick repairs if possible. That included providing tarps for damaged roofs or helping people find temporary housing.
Workers set up a Multi-Agency Response Center where survivors could meet with multiple relief groups, including Warren's team. They received gift cards to provide immediate help, and the group worked with Airbnb to secure housing of up to 31 days for those who needed it.
After that, the effort moves into long-term recovery, and a team from the Conference is headed back to help. Those volunteers will stay at Grace United Methodist Church while on the scene in Fort Myers.
Full recovery can take years. The tornadoes destroyed 74 homes and inflicted major damage on 61 more. Another 56 had lesser damage, while 100 homes also suffered damage but were considered livable.
The storm wiped out a community of older mobile homes, and demolition on the destroyed homes is $5,000 for each one. Many of the survivors were uninsured.
"The mobile home owners met with the demolition company and were told they had to pay cash only," Warren said. "That's one of the differences in this situation from others we've been involved with. The income of the people and their ability to recover complicates this.
"In most cases, they'll have to rent if they can find an affordable place, but that probably means coming up with the first and last month's deposit. Many of them can't afford to do that."
Warren said she is meeting with representatives from the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the Red Cross and other organizations to discuss more ways to help those most in need. The Florida Conference also is soliciting donations from churches throughout the state. To donate, individuals can click here. For churches to donate, follow this link.
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.
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