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Counseling needs grow as hurricane devastation mounts

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (BP)–After dealing with Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne within a six-week period, residents of central Florida are experiencing more than property damage and power outages. Along with clean up and recovery crews, residents need volunteer chaplains and counselors to help in stress management, according to Baptist disaster relief workers.

Central Florida was pummeled from the west by Hurricane Charley Aug. 13, and, before residents could recover, they were hit from the east Sept. 5 by Hurricane Frances. Hurricane Jeanne struck again from the east Sept. 26.

“People in this area are just traumatized,” Larry Elliot, director of church planning and revitalization with the Florida Baptist Convention, said even before Jeanne struck.

Elliot, one of dozens of Florida Baptist Convention staff who have been deployed to assist in relief efforts, is at the helm of the disaster relief command center in Kissimmee.

Elliot told Florida Baptist Witness there continues to be a need for volunteers who will assist in clean-up and rebuilding efforts, but chaplains and crisis counselors with experience in trickle instance stress management and post traumatic stress syndrome also are needed. Disaster relief directors typically place a chaplain with each team that goes out to do clean-up and recovery. The counselors are able to help meet the needs of both the residents of the damaged homes and the disaster relief team members as they minister in the disaster area.

As command center workers receive requests for help from the Baptist teams, they also hear of the plights of families displaced and separated by the hurricanes’ winds and the stressful aftermath.

Elliot described a call from a distraught mother in need of a listening ear — and tree and debris removal. Her middle-aged husband suffered a heart attack after Hurricane Charley, and she said it had affected his mind, making him verbally and physically abusive. She described to Elliot an argument between her husband and her daughter in which he struck the girl, giving her a black eye. Her husband was put in jail and representatives of the Florida Department of Children and Family placed her two children in foster care.

The woman told Elliot that in addition to having her husband in jail, she was coping with debris in her yard, her house was falling apart, and her children were in foster homes.

“‘I wish I had not given them to DCF like that, because I need them here,'” Elliot recalled her saying. She then went on about the unfairness of all that had happened, then cussed for a while, Elliot said.

He assured her of the workers’ prayers for her and her family, and put her on a list to receive the help of a work crew.

“We are here to help remove debris and help people move back to normal life, but individuals like this need spiritual help,” Elliot said. “We need to help them understand that, although they have to go through this trauma, God is real and He’s the one who walks beside them and will help them come out on the other side victoriously.”

The office workers at the command center in Kissimmee are now in the process of calling the 300-400 residents who have previously requested assistance to see if help is still needed. The status of the needs may have changed since volunteers were evacuated before hurricanes Frances and Ivan. Elliot said they anticipate finding many that still need help.

“When you have two storms to cross in practically the same place, almost everybody is affected,” Elliot said.

The Kissimmee command center is helping mostly families with no insurance and elderly residents who can’t afford to pay for help. Also, Sarasota County officials are distributing the telephone numbers of Baptist volunteer command posts to residents who need assistance.

“We can use volunteers who are willing to pick up debris, people who know how to operate a chain saw, folks who can dry in a roof,” Elliot said. “Clean up will take a long time. The city can only do so much, FEMA can only do so much. Everybody is overwhelmed. The need for volunteers will continue to exist for quite a few months.”
Command Centers:
Central Command Center
Olive Baptist Church
1836 E. Olive Road
Pensacola, FL 32514

Satellite Command Center
First Baptist Church
5133 Clara Street
Milton, FL 32570

Kissimmee Command Center
First Baptist Church
1700 John Young Parkway
Kissimmee, FL 34741-03219

Brevard Baptist Association
4235 South U.S. I
Rockledge, FL 32955

Palm Lake Baptist Association
5710 North Haverhill Road
West Palm Beach, FL 33407-1799

Treasure Coast Baptist Association
5700 Graham Road
Fort Pierce, FL 34947-4307

To volunteer for disaster relief, call:
Florida Baptist Convention
1-800-226-8584, extensions 3121, 3122, 3124

To make a financial
contribution, call:
Florida Baptist Convention
1-800-228-8584, ext. 3049

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  • Carolyn Nichols & Joni B. Hannigan