Christian relief agencies are mobilizing aid efforts along Florida’s Gulf Coast after the worst storm to hit the U.S. in 12 years blasted through the region on Friday, Aug. 13. Hurricane Charley, which was a Category 2 storm when it hit Cuba, downed trees and power lines and left an estimated 20,000 homes damaged or destroyed in Pinar del Rio and Havana. More than 500 schools and nearly two-dozen health centers were also damaged by wind gusts that reached up to 102 miles per hour.
With over two thousand people in emergency shelters, and 11-thousand more have applied for disaster assistance, sources say rescue teams and aid are pouring in to provide essential survivor goods.
"Our greatest response, and the greatest contribution that we could provide is to help provide volunteers that can help clean out homes, repair roofs, cut down trees that are blocking driveways, and so forth," commented International Aid President, Myles Fish.
International Aid, which has already has teams providing the much-need manpower, says they are also sending several truckloads of supplies down, including roofing material, baby food, water purification units.
Fish says their help is part of a multi-pronged ministry plan. "Our strategy is to work through the church so that we're advantaging the church and their effort to reach out to their own community. As is often the case, people are often dumbfounded at the willingness of volunteers to come from as far away as Michigan, and to spend three or four days working on their home. That close interaction always gives us the opportunity to explain why we're doing it, who we believe in."
Fish says International Aid's greatest need is for volunteers and financial assistance, but "that could change depending on the findings of our assessment team. "
Meanwhile, Latin America Regional Director for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Jed Hoffman reported that “Life is slowly returning to normal, but there are immediate and long-term needs that we’ll be working to meet.
“Many of those homes destroyed were particularly vulnerable to storm damage to begin with," Hoffman added. "We’ll be working with our partners to help with necessities in the days and weeks to come and will look to provide longer term help in the form of housing and infrastructure rehabilitation.”
Currently, CRS and local partner Caritas Cubana are working to assist those left in need after Hurricane Charley roared across western Cuba. Hardest hit areas include the Isle of Youth, off Cuba’s southwest coast, the province of Pinar del Rio and the capital city of Havana and its environs.
CRS reports that immediate humanitarian needs include clean water, blankets, mattresses and medicines. And, like the relief assistance, the follow-up phase of reconstruction assistance will be channeled through Caritas Cubana to local diocesan offices.
U.S. insurers predict that Hurricane Charley could be the most costly storm to hit the nation since Hurricane Andrew caused about $25 billion in damage to the Miami area in 1992. Florida officials initially estimated economic losses due to Hurricane Charley at $15 billion. With sustained winds toping 145 mph, it also killed 16 people and left thousands homeless.
Meanwhile, another potential hurricane, Earl, has developed in the Caribbean and is headed toward Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba. It may also threaten Florida later this week.