More than $70,000 in grant money is designated for presbyteries in areas affected by Hurricanes Michael and Florence
By Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – Two Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) National Response Teams (NRT) returned from deployment recently in southern Georgia and northwest Florida. They were there to assist in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Michael swiftly blew through the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia as a strong Category 4 storm earlier this month. The teams deployed into Flint River Presbytery and the Presbytery of Florida, where they made damage assessments in coordination with presbytery executives, worshipped with church members, assisted with short-term disaster response plans and identified opportunities for volunteers to help clean up the mess left behind.
“The two PDA teams deployed in response to Hurricane Michael have returned home,” said Jim Kirk, associate for U.S. disaster response. “During the seven-day initial deployment, the teams met with presbytery, congregational and community leadership. They supported the initial presbytery assessment, provided ministry of presence, assisted in developing a short-term response plan and identified opportunities for volunteers to help muck out homes and churches.”
Kirk noted that deployments are timed to give teams an opportunity to worship with impacted congregations.
“Our two teams worshiped with five congregations in the presbyteries they visited to witness the connectional nature of the PC(USA) and affirm that PDA will be present for the long haul,” said Kirk.
Hurricane Michael made landfall on Oct. 10 between Mexico Beach and Panama City, Florida. Damage to infrastructure, electricity renewal and crop losses remain major challenges for residents nearly two weeks after the storm hit.
In Florida, the structural damage was significant. Kathy Broyard, a PDA NRT member, emergency management specialist and executive director of Florida Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Network (FLAPDAN), deployed just west of Mexico Beach in her role with FLAPDAN.
“There was just tremendous wind damage that destroyed structures and snapped pine forests,” said Broyard. “There was one historic church that sat on brick pillars, and the wind force actually lifted the church off its base and shifted its foundation.”
In addition to cash donations to PDA, Broyard noted that short-term needs include teams with chainsaws to come in and assist with downed tree removal. Approximately 300 trees were downed at Dogwood Acres Presbyterian camp, a site that can host volunteer teams once the camp can be cleaned up.
“It will be a long recovery,” said Broyard. “There are many folks who don’t have the means to recover on their own, specifically people without adequate insurance and those who tend to fall through the cracks. We’ll be working with long-term recovery and other agencies that will come together as they do here in Florida and other places to meet the needs of survivors and others who don’t have ways to recover on their own.”
Morella Larsen, an NRT team leader deployed into southern Georgia, noted that most of the damage seen from her team was related to crop loss and thousands of downed trees. The storm went through the area quickly, sparing Georgia residents the flooding issues that normally accompany hurricanes, but the high winds devastated the local pecan and cotton crops, leaving laborers with an uncertain future. It takes pecan trees eight to 10 years to bear fruit.
“The biggest hit we saw was agriculture — the pecan crops were wiped out,” said Larsen. “It was a strong wind event and it totally wiped out some farms, which in turn decimated the laborers who have no crops to harvest.”
PDA has granted more than $70,000 to presbyteries in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina in response to Hurricanes Michael and Florence.
“NRT members provided information on how PDA will continue to support the response and recovery efforts, including spiritual and emotional care, developing long-term recovery groups to address unmet needs, and identifying long-term recovery host sites for volunteer mission teams to help recovery over the next several years,” said Kirk. “PDA supports these and additional efforts through deployments of national volunteers and grants. These grants are in addition to the initial assistance grant and church damage grants, which have already been sent to the presbyteries.”
PDA dispatched two NRT members for an extended deployment to presbyteries impacted by Florence. They will be stationed at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Joint Field Office to work with presbyteries on short- and long-term recovery, which includes supporting the presbyteries’ connections with the broader community’s response and connecting presbyteries with PDA resources.
More than 150 team leaders have registered their team’s interest in volunteering with the PDA Call Center, and there are response-phase volunteer opportunities for congregations looking to assist with immediate needs, such as debris and tree removal. Visit pcusa.org/pdavolunteersites for volunteer information.
To support recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricanes Michael and Florence, click here. You’ll be taken to the PC(USA) website to donate securely and quickly.
If you prefer to mail a check, please note “DR000194” in the memo line. You may send it to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
You may also donate by phone by calling 1-800-872-3283 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Eastern time).
Visit pda.pcusa.org for continuing updates.
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 One Great Hour of Sharing and has designated funds for responding to specific disasters.
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