Staff from Brethren Disaster Ministries (BDM) and its Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) program carefully monitored Hurricane Michael as it made landfall as a strong Category 4 storm along the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10 before moving inland.
CDS deployed a project manager to Florida five days after landfall to meet with Red Cross and emergency shelter staff to establish locations where CDS teams could best serve children in the area. As of Oct. 16, two teams had arrived in Panama City, Fla., and began working at two large shelters in one of the areas hardest hit by Michael.
"Facing no power, no cell phones, and limited resources, these teams were eager to step in and go to help all the families affected despite the challenges ahead," CDS director Lisa Crouch said.
Meanwhile, the CDS response to Hurricane Florence in North Carolina wrapped up on Oct. 11 with a total of 550 children contacts over the course of 24 days despite challenges posed by secondary flooding, which affected the teams’ mobility in getting to shelters. Thirty-two volunteers served over the course of the response.
Crouch shared a note that a family posted to the CDS Facebook page, which said, “The children and parents REALLY needed you. Thank you for what you do!”
Other BDM work continues in the region, with teams currently working again in both North and South Carolina. The teams are helping with clean-up and debris removal from Florence and still repairing homes damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
Some Brethren communities have also been affected. Virlina District executive David Shumate wrote this week that the remnants of Michael had “been much more devastating to our area than Florence.” The Red Hill Church of the Brethren in Roanoke, Va., had water damage to both the church and parsonage, he said, and the parsonage garage was washed away and destroyed. The Clearbrook area south of Roanoke suffered severe flash flooding and landslides, Shumate added.
BDM will continue to assess needs in all the affected areas. Volunteers are currently being sought for projects in the Carolinas, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Those wishing to support BDM work financially can donate to the denomination’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF). A number of congregations and districts are already doing special offerings.
Elsewhere in disaster relief work:
—A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck just off the coast of northwest Haiti on Oct. 6, injuring 427 people and causing at least 18 deaths. It was Haiti’s strongest earthquake since 2010. The United Nations has reported damage to homes and other structures along the coast. The Eglises des Freres d’Haiti (Church of the Brethren of Haiti) has a congregation in St. Louis du Nord impacted by the earthquake.
An initial assessment by local leadership found dozens of members injured, damaged homes, one destroyed home, and damage to the New Covenant School. Miami (Fla.) Haitian pastor and former mission staff Ilexene Alphonse traveled to Haiti on Oct. 15 to represent BDM and provide additional damage assessment while beginning response planning with the Haitian Church.
BDM is also supporting four mobile clinics provided by the Haiti Medical Project. As the needs assessments are completed, a response plan will be created. Rebuilding of homes affected by Hurricane Matthew also continues in Haiti. The last of the home repairs and construction is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
—A CDS presence continues along the Texas-Mexico border, responding to the refugee crisis there. A team of four was deployed to McAllen, Texas, on Oct. 8 to continue support of children at the border coming through the Humanitarian Respite Center. The team had seen 873 children over a seven-day period as of earlier this week. “Their little faces just light up when they enter the designated play area, and they see the toys and smiling faces welcoming them to the center,” a CDS report said. The team planned to remain at the center through Sunday, Oct. 21. Another CDS team is scheduled for a 14-day deployment to the center in November to continue the response.
—And in Puerto Rico, BDM work continues as a response to last year’s devastating Hurricane Maria, with volunteers based at Castañer Church of the Brethren. “The project looks very different from any other BDM site, with some struggles such as unreliable water and electricity,” volunteer manager Carrie Miller wrote. “We cannot be as independent as we like, but we are thankful for our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters here who go out of their way to make sure we have exactly what we need.” Blue tarps still cover many rooftops, they added, and many homes have mold damage, which is affecting health.