Hurricane Frances, which claimed at least 15 lives, was downgraded to a tropical depression late Monday as it moved through Georgia however officials say the danger is not over as floodwaters, already a problem, are expected to rise over the next day or two, and possibly longer.
"Rainfall on Sunday and Monday in west central Florida has now resulted in major flooding," said Ben Nelson, the state's meteorologist. "And we expect heavy rainfalls to continue throughout the northern portion of the state today."
Utility companies in both states set out to restore electricity to the more than 2.5 million people who lost power in the storm, while relief crews kept water, ice, food and other supplies coming to thousands of Floridians still under evacuation orders.
Mandatory evacuations and curfews remained in place in many counties, keeping out worried residents and business owners eager to begin repairs. Insurance risk management companies said repair costs could go as high as $10 billion.
Global humanitarian agency Church World Service (CWS) reported that financial help beyond FEMA funds and insurance would be needed to assist those affected by the devastation of two major hurricanes back to back.
CWS, whose emergency response in the U.S. focuses on long-term recovery assistance, urged supporters to keep their attention on the needs of Florida’s vulnerable populations.
“It’s also too early to assess what the total damages are, particularly when factored in with the existing damage from Charley just three weeks ago,” said CWS Director for Emergency Programs Rick Augsburger.
Due to continued rain in many areas, road washouts, electricity blackouts, and widespread flooding Augsburger said, “First responders really aren’t in place yet … so we won’t know the full impact for awhile.”
The New York Times reported yesterday that analysts are predicting that the damage in Florida from both storms could be as much as $40 billion.
“But there’s one thing for sure,” noted Augsburger, who has directed his agency’s emergency response in places like Iraq and Bam, Iran, “Church World Service’s assessments so far, just from Charley, are telling us that there will be a body of vulnerable, un-insured and under-insured people impacted by Charley and Frances who will need our help for some time to come.”
According to CWS, some aid agencies are reporting that they already had little funding left to work with after responding to Hurricane Charley.
“These agencies provide valuable assistance for people to rebuild their lives physically and spiritually. Yet they’re often strapped for funds for these vital services,” Augsburger said.
Emergency workers are also suffering from the strains of storm response that just keep on going, Augsburger said. “Emergency workers and caregivers are already exhausted from the past weeks. So in addition to direct, immediate emergency relief for storm victims, care for the caregivers is equally important. Partners have asked Church World Service to provide our expertise and support in this arena.”
“CWS is expediting the deployment of its Interfaith Trauma Response Team,” Augsburger reports. “That team’s members will come from across the U.S. to the affected area early this week, to provide ‘care-for-caregiver’ support that can enable responders and leaders of the faith community to get the help they need to keep on going.”
Members of the CWS Interfaith Trauma Response Team include specialists in trauma counseling and training for pastoral, mental health, and community caregivers. The team’s experience has spanned work following the Oklahoma City bombing, natural disasters, and September 11.
In addition, CWS Associate Director for Domestic Emergency Response Linda Brown reports that Church World Service domestic disaster response teams are positioning now to respond to Hurricane Frances. Brown notes that the global agency’s response in Florida “is unprecedented for the agency as a U.S. mainland relief mission to a natural disaster – and is part of the largest national response since September 11.”
CWS reported that Emergency Program staff, who have worked across Florida since Charley hit, will continue to work with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, and other emergency workers to set strategies and support for long-term recovery.
“Church World Service responders will be in Florida for a long time to come,” predicts Brown. “We’re anticipating that recovery groups with faith community participation will be established in numerous counties, and they will focus specifically on helping the most vulnerable,” Brown said.
In addition to shipping emergency relief supplies, CWS is increasing its initial Florida emergency fund appeal to $200,000, to assist in long-term recovery from Hurricane Charley. The appeal will be increased again to encompass the needs in response to Hurricane Frances damage.
About $30,000 in material assistance shipments so far has included CWS “Gift of the Heart” Baby Kits and Health Kits to Sacred Heart Catholic Charities/Sacred Heart Parish Center in hardest-hit Punta Gorda and Health Kits and Clean-up Kits to Agencia de Servicios Sociales Pentecostales (ASSPEN -the Pentecostal Social Service Agency) in Orlando.
To support relief efforts for victims of Hurricanes Charley and Frances through Church World Service, contributors can either call (800) 297-1516, make a secure credit card contribution online at www.churchworldservice.org, or send a check by mail to: Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515.