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Hurricane Idalia threatens multiple presbyteries as it pummels Florida and other areas

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance coordinating with disaster assistance networks

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Hurricane Idalia made landfall at about 7:45 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has been keeping a close watch on Hurricane Idalia, which pummeled Florida and other areas Wednesday, bringing strong winds, rain and dangerous storm surge.

Hurricane Idalia grew into a major Category 4 storm before diminishing to a still-powerful Category 3 early Wednesday before making landfall along the coast of Florida’s Big Bend near Keaton Beach at about 7:45 a.m. Eastern Time, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

“We hold all those in harm’s way and all those who are and will be responding in our prayers,” the Rev. James Kirk, PDA’s Associate for National Disaster Response, said Wednesday morning.

Within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the hurricane has the potential to impact “at a minimum” the presbyteries of St. Augustine, Tampa Bay, Florida, Flint River, Savannah, Charleston Atlantic and New Harmony, Kirk noted.

“At this time, we can report that the Presbyterian Mission Agency and PDA have connected with our Presbyterian siblings pre-storm,” he said. “PMA/PDA is ready to support the immediate and long-term recovery once the emergency phase passes.”

Into the afternoon, CNN was reporting at least two deaths and record-breaking storm surge. “In the vulnerable island city of Cedar Key, a water level record was shattered amid 8 to 9 feet of storm surge,” the article noted. “And the water was still rising fast — predicted to hurl seawater as high as halfway up the second floor of an average building.”

The storm’s wrath was felt along a wide stretch of the Gulf Coast, where homes and vehicles were swamped, streets flooded, trees and power lines knocked down and store windows shattered, according to the Associated Press, which noted that Idalia had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph at landfall in Florida. There also have been multiple tornado warnings.

Nevertheless, “we will do whatever it takes to help our communities recover,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, in a televised briefing.

Georgia also has been impacted by the storm. As of noon Eastern Time, strong wind gusts were continuing in that state, which had experienced sustained winds around 85 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. “Damaging hurricane-force winds will occur where the core of Idalia moves across southern Georgia and southern South Carolina within the hurricane warning area through this evening,” the center noted.

Even before the storm arrived in Florida, PDA was monitoring it and meeting with key organizations.

“PDA staff participated in a preparation/coordination call with the six presbyteries in Florida on Monday facilitated by FLAPDAN (Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network) and had a preparation/coordination call with the five presbyteries in South Carolina yesterday facilitated by SC PDAT (South Carolina Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Team),” Kirk said. “I have also been in touch with one of our National Volunteers in Georgia who is our PDA representative on the Georgia VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster).”

Beyond the United States, PDA has reached out to partners in Cuba and Mexico to offer solidarity, prayers and resources because those areas also were impacted by Idalia.

The hurricane follows closely on the heels of other natural disasters, such as wildfires in Maui. PDA is encouraging the public to pray and make donations to help with future recovery efforts.

Monetary donations “allow for the resources to be used for exactly what’s needed and for local sourcing of goods, which helps the economy,” Kirk explained.

To help PDA respond to this and other natural disasters, use code DR000194.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is one of the Compassion, Peace and Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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