PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (BP)–Standing a block away from President George W. Bush’s motorcade as it rumbled through downtown Punta Gorda, Fla., Aug. 15, Sen. Bill Nelson, D.-Fla., had a simple message for the myriad of volunteers who have come to southwest Florida to assist with the Hurricane Charley clean-up: “God bless you!”
In an interview with the Florida Baptist Witness in the city that bore the worst of Charley’s category four, 145 mph winds, Nelson expressed appreciation for the hundreds of Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers who were already on the scene a little more than 24 hours after the hurricane struck.
“This is one of the great parts of our faith community, that in times of tragedy we respond,” Nelson said. “And I’m so grateful to all of the churches for what they’re doing. Between the many churches, including the Baptist convention, along with the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, all of this is happening. It’s happening now.”
Nelson cautioned that volunteer assistance must be coordinated with state agencies and organizations like the Florida Baptist Convention, which is working in close cooperation with those agencies.
Florida’s junior United States senator praised the cooperation between local, state and federal governments, in contrast to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when “the government did not have its act together.”
Nelson, who toured the area Aug. 14, added, “I’ll tell you, it is magnificent to watch. Immediately after the storm, all levels — local, state and federal — [were] working together. I was out at the Emergency Operation Center last night. All of their ability to communicate has been set up by FEMA — the federal agency — with big satellite trucks. The relief operation, coming in with the food, was all being coordinated. So, my hat’s off to the people who are working these tireless hours because it’s having an effect.”
Nelson told the Witness that it’s too early to predict the length of time and total cost of the recovery effort, although he believes that the better coordination with Charley as compared to Andrew may allow for a more rapid recovery.
“The recovery effort is starting immediately after the hurricane, unlike Andrew, [when] some of those recovery efforts didn’t start until a week after the hurricane. So I think the recovery is going to be fairly quick and people are very resilient. They’re very positive in their attitude and they will bounce back.”
This story first appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness, online at www.floridabaptistwitness.com