Report provided by Brethren Disaster Ministries staff
Hurricane Ian caused catastrophic damage along Florida’s southwest coast on Sept. 28 when it made landfall near Fort Myers. More than a week later, first responders are still out searching the hardest hit neighborhoods for survivors. With the death toll over 100, this storm is one of the deadliest in the state’s history. The level of damage has impeded relief and response efforts as volunteers come to help. Shelter and rental cars are scarce in the state, with many volunteers driving over two hours to get to the damage zone each day.
Children’s Disaster Services
With these challenges, Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) partner Child Life Disaster Response sent local volunteers who started providing services for children in the Hertz Arena shelter in Estero, Fla., on Monday, Oct. 3. They are giving care to about 30 children per day while CDS works with Red Cross to find housing and rental cars for CDS teams to deploy. Many Child Life volunteers are cross trained as CDS volunteers, but can usually only volunteer for a few days.
With hundreds still in shelters the needs are great, but these logistical challenges have slowed the response. CDS is working to deploy a team this weekend to relieve the Child Life team and start opening additional CDS centers. This includes working to find available rental cars and potential housing for volunteers as needed, if the Red Cross is unable to provide direct support.
Please pray… For the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries, Children’s Disaster Services, Material Resources, and the Church of the Brethren districts, leaders, and members involved in hurricane response.
Atlantic Southeast District
Brethren Disaster Ministries is communicating with leadership of the Church of the Brethren’s Atlantic Southeast District to better understand needs and plan response activities. Watch for more information about ways to support this response in coming weeks.
District leadership provided the following damage reports from Church of the Brethren congregations:
— North Fort Myers appears to have relatively minor damage to the church’s steeple and roof. It is still without power, but that did not stop members from gathering last Sunday to worship and support each other. Some church members lost possessions in flood waters and suffered damage to their homes.
— Lehigh Acres Gospel Assembly uses a church rental property and opened its doors as a shelter during the storm. The building’s roof was damaged.
— The Arcadia church had some roof and water damage plus lots of trees are down on the property.
— The Sebring church suffered roof damage that needs to be repaired quickly. The church was a shelter during the storm.
— We are still waiting for a more detailed report, but current reports indicate the Naples Haitian church is undamaged.
The Church of the Brethren Material Resources program, with warehouses at the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md., has loaded the first Hurricane Ian shipment from Church World Service (CWS). Thirteen pallets were loaded Thursday, Oct. 6, to go to Arcadia, Fla. The shipment included 60 bales of woolen blankets, 50 cartons of fleece blankets, and 34 cartons of school kits. Additional shipments are in process that include blankets, kits, and clean-up buckets.
Hurricane Fiona update
Brethren Disaster Ministries is supporting the hurricane response of the Church of the Brethren’s Puerto Rico District, which reconvened its Recovery Committee in preparation for the storm. District disaster coordinator José Acevedo and district executive minister José Calleja Otero are in constant communication with the seven churches on the island to assess and respond to needs. Fortunately, among the churches and their neighbors there was no major damage to structures and no major injuries.
One of the biggest impacts of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico has been on agriculture, with farms flooded, crops flattened, and fruits dropped before ripening. Another major impact has been the power and water outages. Immediately after the storm, Acevedo spent many hours each day collecting drums of water in the back of his pickup truck to deliver to neighbors and church members. Three weeks after Fiona, the areas around the churches in Río Prieto, Yahuecas, and Castañer, in the western mountains, are still without water and/or electricity, hampering the ability to prepare and store food and to have safe drinking water.
A $5,000 Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) grant requested by the district has enabled them to deliver 388 cases of water–nearly 10,000 bottles–in these areas, as well as to those in need in Bayamón and to elderly church members in Caimito. Several churches also have cooked and delivered hot meals and food supplies. Many of those receiving assistance are not church members.
Right after the storm, members of the Río Prieto church helped to clear several roads of trees and boulders to help provide access. Acevedo explained that “in the rural areas the houses are a fair distance from each other and in many situations are not accessible by car.” He described waiting for someone with a four-wheeler to help get water and a meal to one family who lived down a steep muddy pathway.
Acevedo is assessing the status of the farms with storm damage in the church communities, the majority of which are small and face disproportionate risks when natural disasters hit. With long-term recovery and mitigation in mind, discussions are beginning between the Puerto Rico District, the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Initiative, Heifer International, and Brethren Disaster Ministries on how to support these small farmers through programs such as education, training, and cooperation.
Hurricane Fiona traveled north between Puerto Rico and the island of Hispaniola, making landfall near Boca de Yuma on the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic on Sept. 19. It was the first hurricane to do so since Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Brethren Disaster Ministries is in communication with church leaders and partners there regarding possible assistance to church members and their neighbors.
How to support hurricane response and recovery
The most essential assistance needed for hurricane survivors and those working to help them, including church leaders, is prayer. The journey toward recovery will be a long, arduous one and prayer will be needed for months and years to come.
Donations to the Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) to support response and recovery efforts for both Hurricanes Fiona and Ian may be made online at www.brethren.org/givehurricaneresponse or by sending a check with “hurricane response” written in the memo line to Emergency Disaster Fund, 1451 Dundee Ave, Elgin, IL 60120.
Another way to help is to assemble Church World Service clean-up buckets, school kits, and hygiene kits. Information about assembling kits can be found at https://cwskits.org. Kits should be sent to the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md.
Find more Church of the Brethren news:
- CDS helps care for children and families among asylum seekers in Chicago area
- Church of the Brethren general secretary signs letter from Christian leaders to President Biden
- ‘Prayer Vigil: Ceasefire Now!’ will pray for peace in Israel and Palestine
- Next online meeting of Standing with People of Color process is Nov. 18
- Standing Committee of Annual Conference to hold online meetings open to the public