(PNS) While most people are spending their Christmas break relaxing with family and friends, the cleanup work continues for people living across Florida, still recovering from this fall’s Hurricane Irma. The powerful storm caused significant damage to the state in September, but authorities say early preparation and evacuations kept it from being much worse.
“We are still doing response work in several areas. National disaster organizations are still doing debris removal and mucking out homes and businesses,” said Kathy Broyard, director of the Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network (FLAPDAN.) “There are still several pockets across the state that have areas in need of help.”
FLAPDAN has been the central point of contact and coordination with all six Florida presbyteries throughout the storm and the aftermath. Broyard says workers are now transitioning to recovery work.
“There are several communities that have formed long-term recovery organizations of which we are involved along with other faith-based and community partners throughout the state,” she said. “Teams have been calling to come and do response work as well as set up long-term mission trips here this coming summer. We have a good response from groups that want to volunteer and help.”
Broyard says their biggest need now is sleep, along with funding for long-term recovery.
“It has been a tough year because we’ve had so many major storms and different areas hit like Texas with Hurricane Harvey and Puerto Rico with Maria,” she said. “There’s so much need out there for rebuilding.”
Broyard says cleanup from Irma has gone well and the coordination has been better than in years past.
“For the long-term, the need for volunteer teams will be great over the next two or three years along with the need for funding,” she said. “I think that our communities have really stepped up to deal with the cleanup and recovery.”
Broyard says they’ve seen a growing problem with compassion fatigue.
“We’ve requested several resilience workshops, not just for presbyteries and churches, but for anyone working in the response and recovery effort,” she said. “The need for these kinds of workshops began surfacing in the past month or so. The word is spreading that PDA is offering these and people are responding.”
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance leaders recently traveled to Florida to meet with representatives of FLAPDAN, discussing what worked and what didn’t. All agreed that preparation and follow up from Irma worked well.
“Churches are beginning to realize the damage was more significant than they thought a few months ago,” said Jim Kirk, PDA’s associate for national disaster response. “FLAPDAN will be re-assessing churches to ensure all of the damage has been accounted for.”
The next step for PDA, according to Kirk, is to identify potential host sites for volunteers interested in coming to Florida to assist in the rebuild.
“Five of the state’s six presbyteries were significantly impacted,” he said. “We also discussed another layer of the response in that tens of thousands are coming from Puerto Rico, at least temporarily. FLAPDAN is aware of the need to help there.”
Kirk, PDA Director Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, and David Myers, PDA’s senior advisor for hurricane response, also visited the community of Immokalee, home to thousands of migrant farmworkers who pick vegetables. The community suffered extensive damage from Irma that left them without power, damage to homes and little food.
“Those who are most at risk before a disaster are disproportionately impacted most often and that is the case with Immokalee,” said Kirk. “Our meeting was to strategize how to provide more support. We want to make sure they are not overlooked in the response and make resources available for farmworkers to recover.”
Hurricane Irma had a devastating impact on the homes of people in Immokalee with most living in mobile homes and more than half living below the poverty line, according to PDA.
While 2017 hurricane season has ended, Broyard says that doesn’t always mean they are out of the woods. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
by Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service