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"You absolutely could feel Jesus in the room"

"You absolutely could feel Jesus in the room"

Disaster Recovery Missions and Outreach
This screen shot from CNN shows the scope of the catastrophe at the Surfside condo collapse


Trish Warren,  the Disaster Response Coordinator for the Florida Conference, is used to being in catastrophic situations. 

She has been on the front lines of relief following natural disasters like Hurricane Irma that destroyed more than just property. Those events also rob a person's equilibrium. It can take years to recover their sense of normal.

Even by those standards, though, the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium collapse in Surfside was extraordinary. And it was Warren's duty, along with dozens of volunteers and other relief agencies, to provide aid, comfort, and reassurance that Jesus is with them.

"We go through hurricanes and things like that, but this was so much different because of the loss of life," Warren said. "With a hurricane, you've got time to prepare and seek shelter. This was different. It happened in the middle of the night. Most people were home, asleep. It was so sudden and random."

Now, nearly two months after the catastrophe that left 98 people confirmed dead, it's time to take a step back and see the full picture of how much aid was provided to those most in need.

There were 36 volunteers from Miami-area United Methodist churches who worked more than a combined 300 hours. 

Volunteers from Miami-area churches join Disaster Response Coordinator Trish Warren to provide aid at the Surfside condo collapse site.

They helped 103 individuals from 44 families who survived the crash and 142 people with family members who perished in the collapse, and Conference churches donated $32,105 through the Surfside Fund. 

"People all responded with their prayers, which was huge, tremendous," Warren said. "We received emails from people who said they were praying for us, praying for the volunteers. It really helped a lot and gave us the strength to keep going."

Miami-Dade County set up a family assistance center near the condo scene, maintained by the Red Cross. That's where Warren and the volunteers worked with survivors or family members needing information about loved ones.

Approximately 30 stations were inside the assistance center, and volunteers escorted those seeking help from table to table. The public library even had books for kids to read while their parents navigated the process.

Some of the needs were basic.

"People left their condos quickly, and many of them lost their wallets and driver's licenses," Warren said. "The DMV (Division of Motor Vehicles) had a table set up next to us with a camera to take their pictures and get them new licenses on the spot.

"We provided gift cards for those people and partnered with Air B'n'B, who donated housing. I would call them and say we have a family member on-site whose daughter is unaccounted for and might be here seven-to-10 days."

Working alongside volunteers and other relief agencies, she helped victims and families navigate such issues as insurance, clothing, food, and other necessities.

And they prayed, providing spiritual support along with emotional care. They let people know they were not alone.

"Emotionally, this was probably the most challenging thing I've witnessed," Warren said. "We had people from the tower dealing with survivor's guilt and wondering why they were spared when their friends there were not.

"You absolutely could feel Jesus in the room. You could feel him at each table."

Warren's disaster response team could soon face another issue. It's hurricane season, and Florida already has had brushes with tropical weather.

"We are deep in preparations," Warren said. "We'll be ready."

​Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for flumc.org. 


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