From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
United Methodist agencies, volunteers provide hurricane relief
02 Oct 1998 12:24:18
Oct. 2, 1998 Contact: Linda Green*(615)742-5470*Nashville, Tenn.
By United Methodist News Service
United Methodists are working throughout the Gulf Coast states and the
Caribbean to bring relief to storm victims and help with clean-up
efforts in the wake of Hurricane Georges.
The devastating hurricane began in Puerto Rico and the Dominican
Republic Sept. 22, leaving more than 300 dead in the Caribbean. The
storm inflicted extensive damage on Haiti, Cuba, St. Kitts, Nevis,
Antigua and St. Maarten. Moving on to the United States, it blasted Key
West Florida with 105-mile-per-hour winds and pummeled the Gulf Coast.
Parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were hit with heavy winds
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the denomination's
relief agency, has a designated channel for getting money and supplies
to the hard-hit areas. The relief agency is in the process of requesting
a churchwide appeal from the denomination's General Council on Finance
"Maybe you were spared by Georges, but for those who lost everything,
this is a major disaster," said Bob Blair, a lay volunteer with UMCOR.
UMCOR already has sent emergency response grants to the Dominican
Evangelical Church, the Mississippi Annual (regional) Conference and its
own agency office in Haiti.
UMCOR's disaster response team traveled to the Dominican Republic Sept.
30 to assess the damage and assist in developing a recovery plan. The
UMCOR Hotline reports a critical need for pharmaceuticals, food and baby
items, but the agency cautions that material resources should not be
gathered until more information is available.
UMCOR workers in Puerto Rico have reported extensive damage to the
island. As of Sept. 29, more than half of the island had no electricity
or phone service. Officials estimate it will take seven months to fully
restore power. Mudslides have caused the closure of many roads, leaving
some of the most heavily affected communities inaccessible. UMCOR
officials also report that it will take from eight months to three years
to restore crops that were lost, and they see a long-term need for
On the Gulf Coast, parts of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi
that were hit by Hurricane Georges have been declared disaster areas by
Six of the nine districts in the Alabama-West Florida Annual (regional)
Conference suffered extensive water damage, according to the Rev. Jim
Carpenter, council director of the conference. Roads have been washed
out by floods. Because of water levels, United Methodist property damage
in the conference is still being assessed, but most damage to churches
resulted from leaky roofs and heavy rains. Covington County had 23
inches of rain, he said.
Areas in Mobile, Ala., and northwest Florida were heavily damaged, and
conference officials expect to complete their damage assessment on Oct.
5, Carpenter said. "We've begun the recovery process, and clean-up will
begin as flood waters recede."
Many roads remain closed in south Alabama and northwest Florida due to
high water, hampering damage assessments, said the Rev. Andy Ellis,
director of communications for the Alabama-West Florida Annual
Conference, on Oct. 1.
While coastal Alabama and Florida were pummeled by Hurricane Georges,
locations farther inland were not spared by the storm's fury, Ellis
said. Murder Creek in Brewton, Ala., flowed over its banks as the result
of nearly 30 inches of rain, damaging nearby homes and businesses. The
possible contamination of the water system due to flooding and broken
water lines forced the closure of the conference's Blue Lake assembly
grounds, canceling an annual event held there by the United Methodist
In the Florida Annual (regional) Conference, the Keys were the hardest
hit area, with extensive damage to Big Pine Key, said Tita Parham,
director of communications. Disaster response teams have been sent to
the affected areas, and Big Pine United Methodist Church has been the
hub for coordinating the disaster response, she said. Damage assessment
across the conference is still under way.
Hurricane Georges was expected to hit Louisiana and cause extensive
damage to New Orleans. Authorities had feared the worst, including a
complete flooding of the city. Evacuations had already begun before the
storm turned and struck Mississippi, sparing New Orleans.
Rena Yocum, area director of gospel communications for the Louisiana
Annual Conference, said there were no reports of damage to United
Methodist churches or property. "The entire conference is giving
thanks," she said. "Louisiana was fortunate that the storm turned."
Louisiana United Methodists are mounting an "it could have been us"
response, donating their extra emergency supplies or financial offerings
to help storm victims, Yocum said. The conference's Mission In Motion, a
tractor-trailer used to supply UMCOR's Sager-Brown Depot in Baldwin,
La., will pick up the donated relief materials for victims in
Mississippi and Alabama.
On Sept. 30, the Sager-Brown depot distributed 26 tons of relief
materials to Mississippi and Alabama, including generators, power
washers, cleaning supplies, mops, brooms, paper goods, fans and personal
toiletries, said Nancy Osgood, manager of volunteer response for UMCOR
and hotline operator for the depot.
The depot has received numerous types of items for relief efforts, but
it is not accepting donated food, she said. UMCOR officials have
discovered that in disaster areas, victims have immediately received
ample food and water, often through the Salvation Army and Red Cross,
she explained. Instead, the United Methodist Church works with
government, civic and church groups "to see that the whole spectrum of a
person's needs are met after a disaster." UMCOR also has a partnership
working agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The depot is awaiting a call from the Louisiana Annual Conference about
affected areas and how the depot can supply them. Osgood said that
before Hurricane Georges hit the Gulf Coast, UMCOR had been responding
to flooding in Texas. The depot sent a large truck to Del Rio and Laredo
for relief and recovery in flooded areas there.
"My job on the UMCOR Hotline is to direct prospective volunteers to the
areas where disasters have hit," Osgood said. "We are currently
responding to 12 different areas."
Volunteers are urgently needed, she said. Individuals and teams can
contact Osgood at the UMCOR Volunteer Hotline at (800) 918-3100.
The depot's biggest need is "flood buckets," Osgood said. The buckets
arrive at the depot already filled and ready for distribution, with all
the supplies a family would need to begin cleaning up. Anyone needing a
specific list of materials to put in the bucket can contact Osgood.
Nugent United Methodist Church in Gulfport, Miss., is the central post
for United Methodist disaster response in the Mississippi Annual
Conference, said Woody Woodrick, editor of the Mississippi United
Methodist Advocate. Other churches and facilities also will be secured
for material storage and to serve as housing for volunteer workers, he
According to Mississippi's conference disaster response team, the relief
phase will include debris removal, clean-up and responding to immediate
needs. The team said it will focus on the elderly without family, the
uninsured who will not be able to obtain help, and the poor who are less
likely to get assistance any other way. The recovery phase will include
long-term projects such as roofing, structural work and basic carpentry.
"Our first chore is debris removal," said the Rev. Hiram Coker, the
Mississippi Conference coordinator for UMCOR. "We are not here to do
rescue, we're here to provide relief."
Volunteers from Mississippi and surrounding areas should work through
the conference headquarters in Jackson, Coker said. They should not just
show up but should coordinate efforts with the Rev. Mike Stanton-Rich,
conference director of communications, at (601) 354-0515.
Coker said crews will be sent as soon as possible to handle immediate
needs, but he said complete restoration would take much longer, possibly
up to two years.
Information about hurricane damage, cleanup, relief and recovery efforts
is being posted on the World Wide Web at
http://gbgm-umc.org/advance/hurr.98.html and at
http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor-hotline, which are sites of the churchwide
Board of Global Ministries and UMCOR; at http://www.disasternews.net,
the site of the newly developed Disaster Response Network; and on the
Mississippi Conference Web site at http://www.mississippi-umc.org.
People also may call the UMCOR hotline at (800) 841-1235. Information
also can be found on the denomination's Web site at http://www.umc.org,
or by calling InfoServe, the church's toll-free information line at
The sites will include lists of items that work teams should bring,
insurance information, contact telephone numbers, and details on making
Donations for relief efforts may be made to UMCOR, Advance No. 982515-0,
and earmarked "Hurricanes '98." Checks may be placed in church
collection plates or mailed to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330,
New York, NY 10115. Donations also can be made by calling UMCOR at (800)
# # #
United Methodist News Service
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