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Putting the needs of others first is highest calling for Disaster Response

Putting the needs of others first is highest calling for Disaster Response

Disaster Recovery

It’s the time of year when Trish Warren keeps a computer monitor in her home on a continuous loop with the National Hurricane Center.

As the Disaster Response Coordinator for the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, Warren must stay as far ahead of calamity as possible so that resources can quickly flow to those in need.

Trish Warren stays in constant contact with the National Hurricane Center website.

She doesn’t like what she sees on her monitor. After a slow start to hurricane season, the tropics have shifted into overdrive. There were five threatening weather systems simultaneously, including Hurricane Fiona, which inflicted catastrophic flooding on Puerto Rico.

Another system is expected to move through the Caribbean Sea and into the Gulf of Mexico’s heated waters.

“If it gets into the Gulf, that means it’s likely going to hit someone,” she said.

Meanwhile, Warren is helping coordinate the Conference’s response to widespread flooding that hit Eastern Kentucky in late July. The floods killed 39 people, damaged or destroyed more than 100 bridges, wiped out roads, and left residents to deal with—and sometimes continue to live in—their battered homes. 

Scenes like this greeted UMC volunteers as they aided Kentucky flood victims.--John Maxwell photo

Their work is made possible by the apportionments local churches pay to the Conference. However, some of that funding could be in jeopardy if churches planning to join the Wesleyan Covenant Fellowship follow through on their threats to withhold apportionments as they leave the United Methodist Church.

“My hope is that they just don’t get it about what we do,” Warren said. “Because if they do get it and follow through on it, it just means they’re hurting other people who need the support of the Conference. Those people depend on the support of the Conference. We need to be there for them.

“If we cut funding, we wouldn’t be able to serve in the capacities we do now. Trips to help other Conferences in times of extreme need couldn’t happen.”

The hands and feet of Jesus

Shortly after the floods overwhelmed parts of Kentucky, Warren sent a four-person Early Response Team (ERT) of United Methodist volunteers there to do a damage assessment.

That team included John Maxwell from Trinity UMC Gainesville, CJ Hartsell of Grace UMC Fort Myers Shores, plus Larry Finch and Barbara Watson of First UMC St. Cloud.

Helping Kentucky flood victims repair their homes is a massive job--John Maxwell photo.

The team went door-to-door, sometimes on foot because the roads were impassible, to check on the condition of homes.

They faced mudslides and additional rain, but Warren said, “They remained focused on the survivors and the work they have been called to do.”

Much of the damage was in the mountainous Appalachian area of Kentucky, one of the poorest regions in the nation.

Coordinating with the Red Bird Mission-Kentucky—an official “Mission Conference” of the United Methodist Church—they found home after home with major water damage.

The ERTs reported on homes where mold was setting in. Residents needed saturated drywall, carpet, and cabinets removed.

“Anything wet had to come out,” Warren said.

The second wave of about ten volunteers will do that work over five days—two travel days and three workdays.

“The work is hard. Most of our volunteers would stay for weeks if they could, but we make sure they don’t,” Warren said.
“They will clean out the homes. They’ll pull the insulation, rip out the carpet, and make what repairs they can.”

In many cases, residents have continued to live in damaged homes.

“Most of them can’t afford to go to a hotel, and they have no place else to go,” Warren said.

Sending aid to Puerto Rico

The response to the disaster in Puerto Rico is different.

Instead of sending work teams, Warren works with UMCOR to provide cash donations.
UMCOR, in turn, coordinates with Glorymar Rivera, the Puerto Rican Disaster Response Coordinator there.

The island suffered widespread flooding after Fiona’s direct hit, overwhelming a grid structure that hadn’t fully recovered from Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“My sister is a flight attendant, and she flew into San Juan at night after the storm hit,” Warren said. “Hotels are running on generators, but other than that, she said she saw very few lights.”

It’s a story that, like her computer model, seems to operate on a continuous loop. The work never stops.

Before helping after the flooding in Kentucky, the Florida Conference responded when powerful tornadoes pounded that state and others last December.

Florida is always a target for hurricanes, and then there are sudden disasters like the Surfside condo collapse in 2021. Warren’s team responded quickly, helping both shattered survivors and relatives frantic for information about victims inside the crushed building.

It can be overwhelming, but through grief there also can be grace.

Warren told the story of a team of young volunteers who assisted with repair work after Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida in 2017 and caused an estimated $50 billion damage.

More than 7.5 million homes were without power, which was 70% of the state. Uncounted thousands of homes suffered great damage.

“The youth volunteers went to one house that needed a lot of work,” she said. “A husband and wife lived there; she was a believer, but he was not. He also had terminal cancer.

“But after seeing and talking with the youth, he went outside with them as they prayed, and he accepted Christ that night.”

The man died shortly after, but he had made an eternity-changing decision because other people went where Jesus sent them.

It’s a reminder that Disaster Response is about putting the needs of others first. In the United Methodist Church, it is the highest calling.

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for

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