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United Methodists respond to Hurricane Dennis

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A Web-only photo courtesy of NOAA

A satellite image shows Hurricane Dennis approaching the U.S. Gulf Coast on July 10.
July 11, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green and Linda Bloom*

United Methodists in the Florida Panhandle and along the Gulf Coast, still recovering from a hurricane 10 months ago, are thankful that the damage from Hurricane Dennis was less than expected.

Church-related agencies and regional conferences were beginning damage assessments and calling for volunteer help on July 11.

Hurricane Dennis, which made its U.S. landfall July 10, brought rain, winds and tornado warnings to parts of the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Dennis was the fourth named storm of the year, marking the first time the Atlantic hurricane season has had four named storms this early since 1851.

Before hitting the United States, the storm killed 32 people in Haiti and Cuba, in addition to destroying homes, crops and livestock, and it caused severe flooding in Jamaica. A man in Decatur, Ga., also was killed July 11. The storm has been downgraded to a tropical depression.

Hurricane Ivan, which had identical top winds of 120 mph, killed 29 people in the Florida Panhandle last September and caused more than $7 billion damage in the Southeast, according to USA Today. Early damage reports on Hurricane Dennis cited eroded beaches, uprooted trees, local flooding and damaged fences. Some panhandle homes still await new roofs after Ivan’s $14 billion assault, the paper reported.

“We are still recovering from last year’s hurricane and still need work teams for that,” said Marilyn Swanson, project director for storm recovery for the United Methodist Church’s Florida Annual (regional) Conference. “Some of these areas had tropical winds which damaged buildings that were in the process of repair. This is where our focus is. The hurricane did affect some buildings, and we still need teams to help.”

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A UMNS file photo by Meredyth Earnest

Blue tarps give evidence of Hurricane Ivan’s impact on Alabama in fall 2004.
There is flooding in areas of the conference, and disaster response workers are trying to assess where the flooding has occurred and what type of help is needed in the flooded areas in the Florida Keys and Jefferson County, she said. Except for the Florida Keys, few areas had mandatory evacuations, so churches set up by the Red Cross and other relief agencies as refugee sites were not used. At the hurricane’s height, at least 5,000 people were in shelters.

The conference knows that damage occurred in some areas but has not heard from the areas hardest hit and anticipates being able to provide some assistance to the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference, she said. Florida officials encourage those interested in working on recovery efforts from last year’s Hurricane Ivan or the recent Hurricane Dennis to call (800) 282-8011, Ext. 149.

On July 11, the day after Hurricane Dennis made landfall, officials in the United Methodist Alabama-West Florida Conference also expressed relief that the storm was weaker than anticipated, but they were still concerned about towns such as Navarre Beach, Fla., that were directly in Dennis’ path, according to Meredyth Earnest, conference communicator. Arrangements were being made to do initial damage assessments, and the conference posted a toll-free number, (866) 340-1956, for people to call to report damage or request help.

United Methodists in Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss., are also relieved that there was not major damage. Voluntary evacuations compelled some churches to cancel Sunday services, but as of July 11, conference officials noted that some wind damage may have occurred at local churches but they had not heard of any major problems.
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The Rev. Tom Hazelwood
The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, domestic disaster response coordinator for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, was headed to the Pensacola, Fla. area, on July 11, to help with damage assessment. Pensacola caught the brunt of the hurricane.

On UMCOR’s Web site, Hazelwood said he was concerned about the storm’s potential for flooding as it moves away from costal areas. “We anticipate a lot of needs in the rural areas of Alabama and Mississippi, in addition to the coastline.”

Downgraded to a tropical depression, Dennis was expected to dump rain on parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tornados also were possible. Flooding warnings were in effect July 11 for the Atlanta area, and most of north and central Georgia was under a flood watch. President Bush has declared federal disaster areas in parts of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

Contributions to United Methodist recovery efforts should be designated to Hurricanes 2005 Global, Advance No. 982523. Checks to UMCOR can be placed in church offering plates or mailed directly to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. To make a credit-card donation, call (800) 554-8583.
UMCOR also needs donations of flood buckets filled with cleaning supplies. For more information, call UMCOR Sager Brown at (800) 814-8765 or visit  on UMCOR’s Web site.

*Green and Bloom are news writers for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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