JACKSONVILLE (BP)–Hurricane Charley roared through Florida Aug. 13 packing winds of 145 miles per hour, causing death, destruction and power outages in its path from Fort Myers/Punta Gorda through Orlando before heading out to sea near Daytona Beach.
Punta Gorda, a town of 15,000 residents, bore the brunt of the worst storm to hit the state in 12 years. Meteorologists had predicted that the eye of the storm would come ashore 90 miles north, in the Tampa Bay area. The storm surge was estimated to reach heights of 20 feet of water.
In the days leading up to the storm, Florida’s Gov. Jeb Bush placed the state in a heightened level of emergency readiness. Much of the focus was on the predicted landfall in Tampa where the population density is much greater with high-rise condominiums lining the waterfront. Many in the Fort Myers region seem to have chosen to ride out the storm. As a result, on Saturday morning the death toll was mounting among residents of the area’s mobile home parks and beachfront homes.
The governor estimated damage could exceed $15 billion. His brother, President George W. Bush, declared the region a federal disaster area, ordering federal aid for the recovery effort and dispatching FEMA officials to assist in recovery efforts.
Residents in Charlotte, Manatee, Lee and Sarasota counties can apply for federal assistance by calling FEMA at 1(800)621-3362 or 1(800)462-7585 for the hearing and speech-impaired, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Other counties may be declared eligible for federally funded assistance.
Even as the storm pounded Florida’s southwest coast, teams of Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers stood poised to enter the affected area. Thurs., Aug. 12, volunteers gathered at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center in Leesburg, where the convention’s mobile feeding kitchen is located.
“We will need lots of assistance and patience as we begin to minister to a hurting Florida,” said Fritz Wilson, disaster relief coordinator and director of Florida Baptist Men. “The main goal is to show the people of Florida God’s love in practical ways so we earn the right to share the Gospel of God’s love even in difficult times.”
By Sat., Aug. 14, Southern Baptist disaster relief teams were mobilizing from across the country to come to provide assistance in a “heart to hands” ministry. Efforts were concentrated on state damage assessment, establishing incident command system and mass feeding setup/operations.
“The key to a successful response will be responding in an organized and directed method that concentrates on what we can do and know our limitations,” Wilson said. “If we try to do too much too fast we will only add to the problems instead of helping resolve them. If we try to go beyond our reasonable abilities and skills we will be ineffective.”
The Florida Baptist command team personnel are establishing an operations center near the most heavily affected area. Florida feeding units will set up in North Port, just north of Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda, areas with the heaviest damage and still inaccessible.
Feeding units from Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama were en route to Southwest Florida on Sat., Aug. 14, and were expected to be in position on Sun., Aug. 15, in time to feed people starting Mon., Aug. 15. Disaster relief teams from other states will be activated as needed by the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga.
Financial donations can be sent to: Hurricane Charley Relief, Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207. Currently, the disaster relief operations are not prepared to receive collected items of any type.
Barbara Denman is the director of the communications department for the Florida Baptist Convention.