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Amid Hurricane Frances’ furor, layman led prayer in city hall

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (BP)–As the winds of Hurricane Frances howled across Port St. Lucie, more than 350 people, including city employees, their families and pets huddled in the 58,000-square-foot city hall, not knowing what horrors they would find when the storm ended its long, relentless march through their area.

“The hardest thing was not knowing where it was going or how strong it would be,” said Joel Dramas, technical service manager of the city’s building department. While he had “rationalized that my house would probably be gone,” Dramas said others had a “look of despair in their eyes.”

Dramas and fellow members of the First Baptist Church of Port St. Lucie asked if they could have a prayer meeting for those who wanted to attend. Once they received permission, Dramas was given the assignment to preach. Giving a 15-20 minute sermon, he ended by giving an altar call.

At the conclusion of worship, Dramas learned that the service had been broadcast across the channel of the emergency operations center and different places, including several local media outlets. Hundreds heard Dramas share the hope of Christ in his message.

As a result, “a lot of people asked questions about our faith and about how we have faith,” providing him with new opportunities to share Christ with others.

When the city officials left their bunker, they discovered that the eye wall of the Sept. 6 storm had stretched 72 miles in diameter across Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Fort Pierce and Vero Beach, constantly assailing the communities with wind for six hours.

At 35 years of age, Port St. Lucie is among the fastest-growing cities in America, where permits for new buildings number 1,200 a month, Dramas said. Centrally located between Vero Beach, Orlando and West Palm Beach, the city is an easy 30-40 minute commute by way of the Florida Turnpike or Interstate 95. Land and housing is relatively inexpensive and the city is constantly annexing new land, making it the second-largest city in land mass in the country — next to Jacksonville, which encompasses all of Duval County.

Because of the city’s youth, less structural damage was done to buildings as a whole, Dramas said, because the construction incorporated many newer techniques and stronger building codes. Yet an estimated 16,000 homes have some damage from Frances including lost trim, singles and exposed plywood. For these homes, every time it rains, water seeps in and slowly runs down and soaks the drywall.

Day-to-day existence has been tedious during the week after the storm. About 65 percent of the homes and businesses were still without power a week after the hurricane.

“It is mentally draining on a lot of folks,” Dramas said. “My wife has to go out every day and try to find gas, water and ice.” Many people have generators, but because few of these are strong enough to power central air-conditioning units, they sleep at night with open windows.

“So you hear the generators constantly running and it’s too hot to sleep. We can’t seem to get relief from the heat. It would weaken the strongest of spirits.”

As Hurricane Ivan approaches Florida, Dramas said signs of hopelessness are increasing. A Tennessee Baptist feeding unit was stationed at his church but was told to evacuate to get out of harm’s way. “And we had just advertised that they were here,” Dramas said. He is also finding that FEMA, Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies are leaving the area as well.

Another concern is that with another hurricane, resources that had been finding their way to the area — groceries, goods and building supplies — will be delayed and diverted to the new disaster area.

“We are sort of feeling deserted. Why is everyone leaving us?”

If he had a message to fellow Baptists, Dramas said, it would be to encourage them to get involved in disaster relief. “Our government didn’t have food to pass out, but the Baptists did. They were the only ones giving out hot meals in our neighborhoods.”

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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