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United Methodists respond to Florida tornadoes



Residents of the Hawthorne Hills community in DeLand, Fla., salvage their belongings after an early morning tornado destroyed the mobile home park.
A UMNS photo by the Rev. Ivan Corbin.












A UMNS Report by Linda Bloom*
Feb. 5, 2007

United Methodists are organizing to help clean up following the Feb. 2 tornadoes that slammed central Florida and left 20 people dead.

Meanwhile, coordinators are reminding mission teams that relief still is needed in south Florida for victims of Hurricane Wilma from 2005.

Marilyn Swanson, project director of storm recovery for the denomination's Florida Annual (regional) Conference, told United Methodist News Service that church work teams would be part of a coordinated effort to respond to the most recent storms in central Florida.



 Tom Hazelwood

The United Methodist Committee on Relief sent a $10,000 emergency grant to the conference, according to Tom Hazelwood, coordinator of domestic disaster relief for the agency. "We stand ready to send other people if they need it," he said.

Lake, Volusia, Sumter and Seminole counties were declared disaster areas by President Bush. The Rev. Geraldine McClellan, superintendent of the North Central District, reported the death of a 20-year-old, Carl Gordon, whose family attended Christ United Methodist Church in Leesburg. All of the deaths occurred in Lake County.
Churches and parsonages in the area suffered minor damages, according to Swanson.

In Lake County, members of New Covenant United Methodist Church have been preparing food and taking it to nearby North Lake Presbyterian Church, which has been set up as a shelter for The Villages and Lady Lake area, according to the Rev. Dan Jackson.

They also have taken blankets and sheets purchased by the district to recreation areas in The Villages serving as distribution points, and the conference's disaster response depot is sending health kits to New Covenant for distribution.

In the Florida Conference's East Central District, the Rev. Owen Stricklin, pastor of First United Methodist Church in DeLand; the Rev. Wayne Wiatt, district superintendent, and Marilyn Beecher, outreach coordinator, toured affected areas Feb. 3 to gauge the level of support needed from churches in the district.
Swanson said it may Feb. 7 or Feb. 8 before work teams are allowed into the hardest-hit areas and that deployment would be coordinated through the Lake County management and Christian contractors. "They were asking that work teams not independently deploy themselves," she said.

Work teams interested in assisting can apply at the Web site for the Florida Conference's storm recovery center. For more information, call (800) 282-8011, ext. 149; fax 863-688-7233 or e-mail stormrecovery@flumc.org.

Swanson hopes some teams might be willing to do other storm-relief work in Florida. "We still have a need for work teams in South Florida from Hurricane Wilma," she said. "A year and a half later, there are still people waiting for their homes to be repaired."



Hawthorne Hills mobile home park in DeLand, Fla., is a mass of twisted
metal and debris after being hit
by a tornado Feb. 2.

Work teams for the continuing Hurricane Wilma response are needed in the Keys and in Monroe, Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades counties.

Swanson said the storm recovery center will post more information soon on its Web site regarding disaster plans at the local church level. "We've been doing training for local church plans for the last year," she said, noting that "there's really no place where they don't have the potential to have a disaster. That's what churches don't realize."

Checks can be mailed to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087, and should have "UMCOR Advance #901670, Domestic Disaster Response - Florida Tornadoes," written on the memo line of the check. Credit card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.  Tita Parham, managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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