Florida Hurricane Recovery—A Progress Report
It has been more than a year since Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys and crashed into Naples and Everglades City like a freight train at full throttle. Two more major hurricanes—Michael and Florence—have pounded the U.S. east coast since, and hundreds of volunteers are following those recent paths of destruction to help with rebuilding and repair. For Floridians still struggling to come back from Irma, that’s challenging news.
The frightful damage wrought by Michael and Florence has led to a shortage of volunteers and contractors to continue restoration in Irma’s hardest-hit areas. That has efforts on a slow course to recovery, according to those working with the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church and its Florida Restores program. Conference staff estimate it could take five years before both the Keys and the greater Naples area will fully be restored. So far, only about 15 percent of the rebuilds in the Keys are complete.
“We have been working from Marathon south for most of our cases,” said Rebecca White, lead disaster case manager for Monroe County. The pace is excruciatingly slow. Money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, as well as homeowner’s insurance and grant money is coming in at a trickle. As White put it, you must have a permit to sneeze in the Keys. Building codes and rules are restrictive, and there are few contractors to do the work. Keys officials have drilled it home to residents not to use unlicensed contractors, but few licensed contractors have traveled down the island chain to help because of lack of housing.
To help alleviate the volunteer housing crunch, the Florida Conference renovated the Big Pine UMC parsonage and created a bunk house that can house 20 persons, according to White. Long term recovery is building additional temporary units for volunteers. Some people have stayed in a bunk house owned by the Episcopal Church in Marathon; some groups paid for hotels.
John Hosey, a construction coordinator for Florida Restores, said many homes still have significant damage. Almost all belong to low-income residents.
“You go through an application process, and we have case managers in administration helping move it along,” he said. “It’s a thoroughly rigorous process of making sure your home is owned. Most people either had some insurance, but not enough or have a high deductible.” There were a lot of trees on roofs, and some have yet to be removed. The majority of the work being done inside homes is replacing floors and ripping out moldy sheet rock. Volunteers are also putting in new baseboards and replacing windows.
There are some uplifting stories to tell, like the people in the Keys and in Central Florida who have been able to move back into their homes. So far, more than 130 volunteer teams have donated over 64,000 hours, and hundreds of residences have been restored.
However, the number of volunteers dropped off significantly after attention shifted to areas in the Carolinas hit by Florence, then to the Panhandle, devastated this summer by Michael. In the affected area, the amount of help needed outweighs the number of people who are available.
Basic Disaster Ministry Training
The District’s Basic Disaster Ministry Training will be held this year at Palm Harbor United Methodist Church on Saturday, January 26th from 10 AM until 3 PM.
This training introduces the unique and important role the faith community plays in disaster mitigation, preparation and response. You and your church will hear practical ideas on how to effectively respond to disaster in your community in cooperation with other churches, emergency management officials and the Disaster Recovery Ministry of the conference. You will understand the importance of communication and collaboration in meeting the needs of disaster survivors and the importance of being the church during crisis.
There is no cost for this training; however, registration is required for planning purposes. Check in begins at 9:30 and lunch is provided. Palm Harbor UMC is located at 1551 Belcher Road, Palm Harbor, Florida.
Please visit https://floridarestores.com/training-schedule to register. Training is provided by the Disaster Recovery Ministry team of the Florida Conference. Contact Pam Garrison (800) 282-8011, ext. 148 for more information.