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Florida presbyteries mobilize to help churches and communities after Hurricane Irma

Access to fuel, electricity and phone service complicate recovery process

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Coast Guard members transport St. Thomas residents to the Coast Guard Cutter Valiant during Hurricane Irma response efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Sept. 12, 2017. The Valiant crew brought more than 95 people and pets from the storm-ravaged island to the cutter. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

LOUISVILLE – Hurricane Irma may be gone, but the aftermath of its path across Florida is still being felt by residents, businesses and churches. FLAPDAN (Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network) held a conference call with the state’s six presbyteries and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance on Wednesday to get a general assessment of the needs in each area.

“There has been a lot of road blockage, including parts of I-75. There may be additional problems as rivers begin to rise, limiting the ability to move supplies coming into the state,” said Kathy Broyard, FLAPDAN director. “There is plenty of gas, but the supply trucks can’t get in. It’s a matter of getting the fuel delivered to stations across the state.”

Florida’s six presbyteries (Tropical Florida, Peace River, Tampa Bay, Central Florida, St. Augustine and Presbytery of Florida) reported downed trees, power lines, some water damage and lack of phone service through out.

“The people in our area appear to be more shell-shocked than anything. Problems with power and service are beginning to take their toll on folks,” said Daris Bultena, presbytery administrator with Tropical Florida. “In some ways, we fared better in the storm than we thought we would, we just need to figure out how to make connections.”

In Tampa Bay, several churches report roof damage and water intrusion and many people lost their homes.

“We are housing a lot of people in some churches and more churches are becoming shelters as schools are being cleared out,” said Patrice Hatley, executive presbyter. “Those seeking shelter included homeless as well as those who lost manufactured or mobile homes.”

The story is the same in Central Florida Presbytery; lack of power or access to gasoline and phone service. There are reports of light to moderate storm damage to churches in the presbytery.

“People fear it may take two or three weeks to get power restored, giving them concerns about food supplies,” said Dan Williams, executive presbyter. “Power is still out in areas around Orlando, but workers are trying to get it restored as quickly as possible. Flooding is a concern in some areas as lakes begin to fill beyond their banks.”

PDA is sending two National Response Teams to Florida this weekend to assess damage in some of the presbyteries and make connections with churches and groups in the most impacted areas.

Broyard is encouraging presbyteries to utilize Crisis Clean Up (800-451-1954 or, an open source application that connects disaster recovery agencies with people in need of help.

“People need only provide their address, phone number and the type of help they need; whether there are trees down or flooding in their home,” said Broyard. “Operators are available and volunteer teams can go online, register their team and learn how to zero in on an area of need.”

Broyard says teams can select the area they wish to work and take responsibility for completion of clean up efforts.

“This way we can spread volunteer teams throughout Florida to the areas that need help because it can take a great deal of time to drive from one location to another to determine where the problems are,” she said. “This way, they can simply go online and select the area to support.”

Jim Kirk, PDA’s associate for National Disaster Response, served two churches in Florida and is experienced in weathering hurricanes. He offered words of encouragement to the presbyteries.

“It may feel chaotic and overwhelming, but my experience is you are well ahead of the curve with your preparation,” he said. “I remember well the hot, steamy Florida nights in September after a storm. Self care is very important so be sure to take care of yourself, get enough food and sleep in order to be there for your congregations.”


Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is the emergency response and refugee program of the denomination, committed to the long-term journey of recovery of communities adversely affected by a crisis or catastrophic event. It is funded by the One Great Hour of Sharing and raises designated funds for responding to specific disasters.

To support recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Irma, click here. You’ll be taken to the PC(USA) website to donate securely and quickly.

If you prefer to mail a check (please write DR000194-Irma on the memo line), you may send it to:

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700

You may also call 800-872-3283 Monday Through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (EDT), and donate by phone.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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