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United Methodists respond to hurricane damage

9/22/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A UMNS Report By Joretta Purdue and Tim Tanton*

The damage caused by Hurricane Isabel is keeping workers busy from sunrise to sundown at a United Methodist emergency response center in Goldsboro, N.C.

"We've been here all day every day since Friday (Sept. 19)," said Nelson Davenport, materials resource director with the Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiatives (MERCI), named for the North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference's bishop.

Within three days of the Sept. 18 hurricane, the center had given away half of the 2,000 buckets of flood-relief supplies that it had received from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Davenport said Sept. 22. "We're going through them fast."

The buckets contain cleaning solutions, disinfectants, rubber gloves, scrubbing pads, sponges, clotheslines and clothespins and other supplies for use in cleaning up water-damaged homes and businesses.

"We are sending out flood buckets and health kits," Davenport said. "We are trying to round up and loan out generators. We're shipping out tarps or house wraps to cover houses with."

As people along the U.S. East Coast recovered from the Sept. 18 hurricane, United Methodist churches and conferences pitched in to help. The hurricane is blamed for at least 35 deaths, with Virginia alone suffering 19 fatalities. About 1.4 million people along the eastern seaboard were still without power as the workweek began, according to news reports.

United Methodists in several states were assessing the damages, and UMCOR stood by to assist conferences needing help. In North Carolina, church relief workers, district superintendents, the bishop and others planned to meet Sept. 22.

In Virginia, the situation varied from one region to another, but much of the state was contending with trees that took down power lines.

Frank Bridgeforth was driving a disaster response trailer to Saluda near the Rappahannock River Sept. 22. The trailers include generators, tools, space heaters, fans, sawhorses, saws and other equipment.

Another trailer was taken to Elton, Va., the day after the hurricane, he said. Four such trailers are positioned around the state for emergencies, he said, and a much larger one with more equipment is stored in Richmond.

"Our churches have fared very well," said the Rev. Joe Savinsky, Norfolk District superintendent. However, he added that he was unable to reach a couple of pastors by midday Sept. 22.

A tree hit the parsonage of St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Virginia Beach, Savinsky said. Most of the damage to other church property was minor: a few shingles blown off or windows broken, he said.

"We're grateful it was only category 2 gusting winds," Savinsky said. "If it had been category 3 or 4, the area really would have been devastated."

Northwest across the state in Waynesboro, the Rev. Gary Milstead of the Main Street United Methodist Church said area churches sustained minor wind and water damage, and fallen trees were commonplace.

Churches in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay area were among the hardest hit. Between 15 and 20 United Methodist churches are in the bay areas of Fishing Creek-Hoopers Island and Rock Hall, which were affected by flooding, according to Tammy Ward, communicator for the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference.

Flooding also struck Peninsula-Delaware's Camp Pecometh near Centreville, Md., Ward said.

District superintendents are handling assessments in their areas, and then the conference disaster relief coordinator will oversee the response in those districts, she said. Two of the conference's four districts may have damage.

Despite the impact, Ward had no injuries to report from local congregations. "Blessedly, we haven't heard anything."

In the Baltimore-Washington Conference, Bishop Felton Edwin May contacted UMCOR the day after the hurricane struck, asking the agency for help. Sandy Ferguson, the conference's associate council director, coordinated relief efforts.

While flooding devastated areas of Annapolis, Baltimore and coastal areas on Chesapeake Bay, United Methodist church buildings in the Baltimore-Washington Conference were largely unharmed, she said in a report in the conference's e-connection newsletter. The parsonage at Turner Station United Methodist Church, in Dundalk, sustained flooding in the basement, and roof damage was reported at Brooklyn United Methodist Church.

Ferguson cautioned local churches about setting up as emergency relief shelters. They may, however, work with the Red Cross or other relief organizations to have their doors open, to offer a safe sanctuary, pastoral counseling and refreshments, or to serve as a base for volunteers to organize, she said in e-connection.

People interested in helping with the recovery can call UMCOR's volunteer line, (800) 918-3100. Check donations can be made out to UMCOR, designated for "Hurricanes 2003," Advance No. 982438, and placed in church offering plates or sent to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, N.Y. 10115. Credit-card donors can call (800) 554-8583 or make an online donation at
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*Tanton and Purdue are United Methodist News Service writers.

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