Hurricane Ian causes devastation across central Florida, Hurricane Fiona relief continues in Puerto Rico

By Roy Winter

Hurricane Ian made landfall near Fort Myers, Fla., on Sept. 28 as a powerful Category 4 hurricane with major storm surge and sustained winds over 150 miles per hour. Tropical storm force winds and heavy rain continued across central and northeast Florida as the storm shifted northward toward the Carolinas.

Brethren Disaster Ministries staff and the Atlantic Southeast District leadership are continuing to reach out to affected churches and communities to learn of the impact of the storm and the needs that have developed.

So far there are no reports of injury among church members, but there is news of minor damage in two churches. While most other churches were unaffected, news has not yet been received from two churches in Fort Myers and Naples, the hardest-hit areas.

As news and assessments of the effect of the hurricane on individuals and communities are received, updates will be announced through Facebook and Newsline.

Children’s Disaster Services

Children’s Disaster Services (CDS) volunteers are preparing to deploy to Florida over the weekend, at the request of the American Red Cross. It is anticipated that two CDS teams will serve in the locations with the highest need after the initial chaos of the crisis. These teams will be stationed in shelters to work with the children and families affected by the hurricane. Additional teams will be deployed in Florida and other areas on the southeast coast, if needed.

A satellite image of Hurricane Ian as it approached the west coast of Florida. Media linked the unusual size and strength of the storm, the extreme storm surge and rainfall totals, to climate change’s warming of the water in the Gulf as well as the increasing pace of sea level rise. It made landfall “tied as the fifth-strongest hurricane on record to strike the United States,” said the Washington Post in a report titled “How rising seas made Hurricane Ian’s impact worse.” The piece noted that “these rainfall totals have less than 1 percent chance of happening in any given year or are 1-in-100 year or higher events.” Credit: NOAA

Please pray… For the Church of the Brethren’s Atlantic Southeast District, its congregations and members, their families, neighbors, and communities affected by Hurricane Ian.

Screenshot of an interactive “find a church” map at www.brethren.org/church show the congregations in Atlantic Southeast District, more than half in locations that were in the path of Hurricane Ian. Located in the coastal areas where the hurricane first hit are Naples Haitian Church, North Fort Myers First, Good Shepherd in Bradenton, Gospel Assembly in Lehigh Acres, and Celebration of Christ in Saint Petersburg. Several more were in the path as the hurricane moved northeast across the state: Arcadia, Sebring (a church-related retirement community also is in Sebring), Lorida, Iglesia de los Hermanos, South Fern Creek Community in Orlando, Orlando Haitian Fellowship, New Covenant in Gotha.

How to help

Brethren Disaster Ministries expects to support the shipping of clean-up supplies and other Church World Service kits as part of the early relief efforts. Staff also will monitor needs for assistance with clean-up efforts in communities where Church of the Brethren congregations are located, while preparing to support long-term recovery efforts in Florida.

Donations can be made to the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) for hurricane response, go to www.brethren.org/givehurricaneresponse.

Clean-up buckets and hygiene kits also are needed, go to https://cwskits.org for lists of kit contents and instructions. Kits should be sent to the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md.

Puerto Rico

Hurricane Fiona made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico on Sept. 18 as a Category 1 storm, but rain, flooding, and landslides impacted the whole island for many days before and after. In the end, some areas of the island received more than 30 inches of rain that washed out bridges and roads, caused landslides, and flooded homes, streets, and crops.

Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, especially the power grid, has long faced issues that were compounded by damage from Hurricane Maria exactly five years prior, and have not fully recovered. Fiona left an island-wide power outage for the approximately 3.3 million residents. About 80 percent of the power grid has been restored in the last week.

Initial reports from the leadership of the Church of the Brethren’s Puerto Rico District indicate there have been no lives lost among district members, and no homes or churches received major damage. Thankfully, there have so far been no reports of damage to any of the homes repaired or rebuilt after Hurricane Maria. However, there are accounts of destruction to agriculture and blocked roads impacting access and travel, as well as areas–particularly in the mountains–still without water and power.

Each Church of the Brethren continues assessing the impact on and needs of church members. Volunteers have been busy helping to deliver water, clear roads of rocks and trees, and offer what assistance they can to their neighbors. District leadership and Brethren Disaster Ministries staff have been active on coordination calls with the Puerto Rico VOAD to monitor the situation across the island and to share information.

Dominican Republic

After swamping Puerto Rico, Hurricane Fiona continued west-northwest across the eastern edge of the Dominican Republic, producing heavy rains that caused landslides, road destruction, and damage or destruction of bridges. More than 2,500 homes were affected, displacing 12,000 people, the majority of whom lived in substandard housing. Brethren Disaster Ministries continues to monitor this situation through the connection with the Dominican Church of the Brethren and other local partners.

Disaster grant

In response to Hurricane Fiona, an EDF grant of $5,000 was made to support Puerto Rico District in providing water and other emergency needs in the communities around the churches.

For example, on Sept. 29 volunteers from the Río Prieto congregation, located in the western mountains, along with district disaster coordinator José Acevedo, prepared hot meals to distribute in their community along with bottled water. The adult volunteers, led by pastor Carmen Mercado, were assisted by youth and young children who are learning the importance of service to others. Brethren Disaster Ministries will be working with district leadership to develop plans for additional relief and recovery programming.

— Roy Winter is executive director of Service Ministries for the Church of the Brethren, including Brethren Disaster Ministries and other programs. Also contributing to this article were Sharon Franzén, of the Brethren Disaster Ministries office, and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of News Services.

Río Prieto church members, including children learning about service, distributed bottled water to community members without water and electricity after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico.
Río Prieto volunteers deliver hot meals to a couple whose home was rebuilt after 2017’s Hurricane Maria. Thankfully the home survived Hurricane Fiona without damage. District disaster coordinator José Acevedo is at left. Pastor Carmen Mercado is second from left.
Church of the Brethren volunteers in Puerto Rico work hard to clear a boulder from a road that was the only access to the homes of five families. The land was so saturated from Hurricane Fiona’s rainfall that the boulder actually fell several days after the storm had passed. Photo by Jason Martinez


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