ARCADIA, Fla. (BP)–Joe Talamantez stood in the front of a little white tattered home talking with Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch. The men were sharing their impressions of the mess left by Hurricane Charley, the most devastating hurricane to come ashore in southwest Florida since 1960.
“What did you think?” Welch asked the 36-year-old father of five.
“It was scary,” said Talamantez, who had huddled with his wife and children a few miles away in their new cement block duplex when the hurricane struck.
The family was returning to his wife’s mother’s two-bedroom home in a neighborhood largely ruined with smashed mobile homes, clogged drainage ditches and gravel driveways spilling onto the streets.
“Is everyone OK?” Welch asked, looking around in disbelief. Welch, pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., was at the other side of the state when the hurricane blew through Aug. 13 — and his home and church were still without electricity.
“Yes, we were all together,” Talamantez sighed. “Me and my wife and the five kids.”
Explaining that his house was actually in another neighborhood, Talamantez said he was taken by surprise by Charley’s onslaught, that the roof had blown away off his home but that the entire family was spared.
Welch was the neighborhood to encourage residents and to lead a team of Baptists who were sharing food and supplies Aug. 18.
“I’ve been here for 28 years and never been hit. It’s always been around us,” said Talamantez, whose entire family are members at Heritage Baptist Church in Arcadia.
Later, Talamantez told the Florida Baptist Witness that he and his wife, Pearl, and their children, Alex 17, Steven, 14, Jordan, 13, Crystal, 12, and Brittney, 10, had been looking for a place to stay since the hurricane struck but could not find any housing.
Their duplex is completely unusable, he said, because the roof was torn off, exposing the inside and the entire house is falling in on itself.
“I don’t know what we are going to do until we get back up, and I mean we’ve been looking around but we can’t find anything. There’s nothing around,” he said.
As for the future, Talamantez said the company he works for, Peach River Citrus, plans to rebuild but is focused now on emptying their massive storage tanks.
“They are taking all the juice out, sending it everywhere else, that’s why we are working nights right now,” Talamantez said, explaining that the tanks are OK, but the wells that supply them are not.
For now, there’s work. Later, however, Talamantez said there’s already talk about laying people off.
“I just have to get back over there and see what’s going to happen then,” he said. “That’s why I’m trying to take every day they can give me until I see what happens.”
Dwayne Lane, pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Zephyrhills, Fla., said it was the thought of what families like the Talamantazes might encounter that kept crossing his mind while watching news coverage of the hurricane Aug. 13.
After “wrestling with God” for a while once he went to bed, Lane said he began to think of how he might help.
“I went back to watch the TV and started watching the numbers to call for relief aid and stuff and it popped into my head that, ‘Why don’t we do it at a local level and go to the outlying areas where nobody has been and where nobody’s going to go?” Lane recounted.
The word got to Lane that the churches and people in three Baptist associations – Florida, Hillsborough County and Polk County — probably were most affected by the damage.
Sunday morning, Lane said he asked his church for help. By Sunday night, they had collected about $600 in food and other supplies for “family boxes” that filled a 22-foot trailer they unloaded in Arcadia. Phillip Young, pastor of First Baptist Church in Arcadia, and his wife, Michelle, facilitated the effort, and Lane joined up with Welch and his co-pastor David Cox Aug. 18.
“The hurricane changed and missed us by two hours, so I just begged them to do something,” Lane said of his church members. “Would another little church do that for us if we were in that position?” he recalled asking.
Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.