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United Methodists prepare for post-Fay relief work

Torrential rains produced by slow-moving Tropical Storm Fay flood a residential street in Palm Bay, Fla., on Aug. 20. A UMNS photo by Barry Bahler, FEMA.

A UMNS Report
By Erik Alsgaard*
Aug. 22, 2008

With Tropical Storm Fay still swirling off the east coast of Florida, United Methodists in the waterlogged state are beginning to assess the damage and coordinate relief efforts.

A satellite image shows the storm
over eastern Florida on Aug. 20.
A UMNS photo by Jeff Schmaltz, NASA.

"We are receiving reports of catastrophic flooding and debris in parts of the state," said Marilyn Swanson, director of Disaster Recovery Ministry for the Florida Annual (regional) Conference. "We are trying to anticipate the needs that will be arising in the next few days."

Bishop Timothy Whitaker is asking the United Methodist Committee on Relief for a $10,000 emergency grant to help with initial needs.

The conference is poised to provide flood buckets filled with cleanup supplies to homeowners. It has 1,400 buckets stored in a warehouse in Madison, about an hour outside of Tallahassee.

The Disaster Recovery Ministry is pre-positioning flood buckets and FEMA tarps for the church's South West District for use when damage assessments are complete in Glades County near Lake Okeechobee, where Fay has dropped upwards of 15 inches of rain.

Meanwhile, in the case that relief teams are needed, Swanson is working with Nick Elliott, executive director of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission for the church's Southeastern Jurisdiction.

Swanson and her team of district disaster coordinators, field workers and staff located at the Conference Center in Lakeland, Fla., meet by conference call every day at 11 a.m. during a storm event. Information is shared and response plans are put into motion.

With the storm stalled over the eastern coast, some catastrophic flooding already was reported in the Atlantic Central District. More than 33,000 Floridians were without power on Aug. 21, including 10,000 in Brevard County alone.

Four churches had reported minor damage, including First United Methodist Church in Hobe Sound, which was looted during the storm, according to Mark Thomas, director of the conference's Department of Ministry Protection.

The North East District was still anticipating the brunt of the storm, according to Will Clark, its disaster coordinator. Four churches in the district have been identified as collection points for relief supplies as needed.

Churches throughout the conference are being asked to notify Swanson’s office if they have flood buckets or FEMA tarps stored at their church. To contact the Disaster Recovery Ministry, call (800) 282-8011, ext. 149, or e-mail DisasterRecovery@flumc.org.

United Methodists are also asked to re-stock their local food pantry or food bank. Recovery from flood damage is a long-term effort, Swanson said, and many people will rely on food donations, possibly depleting already strained local food banks.

Work teams are expected to be needed after the water recedes. To volunteer, visit www.flumc.org/disasterrecovery and complete the online registration form.

To donate to UMCOR, drop checks in church offering plates or mail them directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Write Advance #3019695 Hurricanes 2008 on the memo line. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583 or at www.givetomission.org.

*Alsgaard is the communicator for the Florida Annual Conference.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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