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CWS Responds to Hurricane Victims, Issues $100,000 Appeal

Church World Service domestic aid workers are in Florida assessing immediate and long-term needs of those affected by Hurrican Charley
( [email protected] ) Aug 19, 2004 08:34 PM EDT

Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison specialists from a global humanitarian agency are assessing immediate and long-term needs of vulnerable populations affected by Hurricane Charley’s devastation. According to Church World Service, its domestic aid workers followed first emergency response teams and have been in Florida since Tuesday.

As of today, government officials say 22 have died as a result of the category 4 hurricane, one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history. An estimated 17,961 households will ultimately be displaced and an estimated 4,000 people are homeless. According to the Associated Press, Florida has requested catastrophic housing for 10,000 people.

One of the first aid agencies called by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with the Red Cross, in times of national disaster, Church World Service (CWS) issued a $100,000 fundraising appeal for victims of Hurricane Charley and said it was also prepared to expedite shipment of material resources such as lightweight blankets, personal care kits and clean-up supplies as needed.

FEMA has received 23,500 applications for relief to date, 13,000 of those on Monday.

“Damage to homes, businesses and communities is massive and extensive across the state,” said Church World Service Emergency Response Program Director Rick Augsburger.

“Although Charlotte County was hardest hit and has been covered by media the most, Orange, Polk, Volusia, DeSoto, Lee and Sarasota counties received significant damage,” he added. FEMA has declared 25 of 67 counties as disaster zones and eligible for federal disaster assistance.

"Church World Service’s response in Florida will be substantial for many months to come,” said Augsburger.

CWS will work closely with such groups as Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster (FIND), the Florida Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and Florida-based faith partners.

Miami resident and CWS Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Lesli Remali said the agency “will be looking to the long-term needs of people who may be uninsured or underinsured."

“We will focus on those who are particularly vulnerable such as the elderly, disabled, those who live alone, migrant farm workers and immigrants, the homeless, people whose first language isn’t English, the Seminole, Miccousukee and other native groups living in the impacted areas,” Remali added. “At this point, no one knows the damage done to churches, mosques and synagogues in the affected areas– or to food pantries and other community helping agencies. CWS will be assessing that damage.”

According to Augsburger, emergency teams from across the country are already in Florida to provide mental health counseling, but he said, “ there’s still a spiritual need to be assessed and addressed.”

Augsburger added that because Charley wreaked such widespread havoc, “those in Florida who traditionally are called on to offer help and comfort for disaster victims–– that is, community church leaders– may be experiencing the same losses themselves.”

“CWS will be working with the Florida spiritual community and the state’s voluntary agencies to determine if there are sufficient people locally who are trained and available to handle the spiritual counseling that’s going to be needed – including serving those caregivers themselves who are also disaster victims,” Emali explained.

Officials are estimating about $20 billion total damage in Florida, with $10-$14 billion in insured losses.