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Debris removal teams needed in Florida

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Web-only photo courtesy of the Florida Annual Conference

A piece from Miami Lakes United Methodist Church, on Florida’s east coast, rests on the church lawn.
Oct. 26, 2005

LAKELAND, Fla. (UMNS) — The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church is responding to the needs of both coasts of South Florida impacted by Hurricane Wilma.

The conference’s Storm Recovery Center telephone volunteers are coordinating offers of help and distribution of donated supplies.

In cooperation with the Florida Annual (regional) Conference, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has been working on long-term recovery in the affected areas since the 2004 hurricane season, which pummeled Florida with repeated storms.

Hurricane Wilma, which struck Oct. 24, not only caused damage from the state’s west to east coast but left several million people without power. Citizens formed lines at gasoline stations and at centers distributing ice, water and food.

Reports indicate areas around Lake Okeechobee, parts of the Florida Keys and Broward County, including the Fort Lauderdale area, were hardest hit.

South of Okeechobee, members of First United Methodist Church of Clewiston spent Oct. 25 mopping up and stabilizing homes, according to the Rev. John Hicks, the church’s pastor.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A Web-only photo by the Rev. John Hicks

The neighborhood of Clewiston in the center of South Florida lies flooded after Hurricane Wilma.
Hicks said many of the streets that flooded have been pumped out, but there’s major storefront damage as well as downed trees and power lines throughout the community.

"Clewiston was in the hurricane eye, and when it shifted, we had tornadoes and much destruction. Several of our gas stations had their pumps blown away by the winds," Hicks said. "Many of those in trailers had significant damage if not devastation. (There’s) no power — some have no water. The sugar cane is flattened, and the trees are fruitless."

The church and parsonage were also damaged. Church windows were broken, and the roof of the office now leaks. At the parsonage, an awning and columns on the front entryway were blown off.

"There’s major tree damage. The sanctuary and my office were flooded, so we are wading through that right now," Hicks said.

The day was also spent doing "first aid" for mental stress. Hicks said most everyone in the 6,000-member community was affected, and many people needed to share their stories. He said they talked about "wind howling, windows busting out, coming back to their home and finding the roof off their trailer."

"As our congregations and pastors contact us about the hurricane’s dramatic impact in their communities, we realize that debris removal teams are urgently needed now," said Marilyn Swanson, the storm center’s director. "Power is gradually being restored in many areas. People are digging out, and they need help to grapple with the devastating effects of the wind."

The Rev. Dennis Redstone said his community of Lighthouse Point, located about nine miles north of Ft. Lauderdale and four miles from Boca Raton, "is a real mess" and may not have power for two weeks.

"Trees are everywhere, power lines are everywhere, roads are blocked," he said.

Redstone is pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church. He said the church’s preschool sustained the most damage, with the roof "peeled off" and three rooms and the roof of the walkway to the school gutted. The steeple was also damaged, with the copper sheeting blown away, along with some sheds. In addition, the church sign was damaged, windows were broken and aluminum siding had fallen off.

So far, 30 churches have reported damages, ranging from broken windows and fences, leaks and downed trees to flooding in sanctuaries and portions of roofs collapsed. Most of those churches are on the east coast of the state and further inland.

"We do know that we have damage ranging from the west coast near the Naples area, across the state and over to the southeast coast," Swanson said. "Some of our South Florida neighbors are reeling from repeated hurricane visits and will appreciate any help individuals can give us."

Volunteers are ready to accept offers of help on the storm center’s toll-free line, (800) 282-8011, Ext. 149. At this point, the center is recommending that volunteer teams be "self-contained," since housing and supplies are in short supply.

"Please consider bringing your early response teams to Florida," Swanson said.

According to Hicks, the Clewiston area needs chainsaws, crews and "bucket brigades" because "those who have chainsaws are up to their ears in their own problems."

The Keys are a part of the South East District, which is still being assessed for damage. The Rev. Debbie McLeod, district superintendent, spent Oct. 25 visiting churches and communities in Broward County, which sustained the most damage. She said 98 percent of the district is without power.

Bob Ladner, the district’s disaster response coordinator, was responsible for contacting churches in the Miami-Dade area. He said a few had significant damage, including his own church, Palm Springs United Methodist Church in Hialeah, where he serves as local pastor.

One issue for the district is damage from multiple hurricanes. Katrina damaged some churches, like Redlands Community United Methodist Church in Homestead, and Wilma "made it all worse," according to Ladner.

The Rev. David Harris, disaster response coordinator for the South West District, said the major issue there is power outages, particularly in Naples, Fort Myers and Immokalee. Distribution points for supplies are being set up at Englewood and Cornerstone United Methodist churches to serve the inland areas, which Harris said seem to have suffered the most damage.

Details on how to help are available from the Florida Conference’s Web site,

Donations to assist with clean-up and recovery after Hurricane Wilma can be made to UMCOR Advance #982523, "Hurricanes 2005." Checks can be placed in local church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

Information for this report was provided by Tita Parham, managing editor of the e-Review, Florida United Methodist News Service and Florida United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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