Charley Update: Assessing the Damages

Churches report several million dollars in structural damages, but remain thankful for the health and lives of their congregants
( [email protected] ) Aug 17, 2004 04:21 PM EDT

Hurricane Charley reportedly left behind $11 billion worth of damages on over 500,000 homes and business structures. Among these devastated structures are church chapels, many which were plummeted down to a pile of splinters by Charley’s 145 mph winds and torrential rains.

Of the denominations most severely affected by the hurricane was the Assemblies of God. On August 16, the A/G reported over several million dollars worth of damages to their local churches.

The condition reports include:

* Abundant Life A/G located in Punta Gorda (Dennis Postell Sr., senior pastor) is a total loss as the hurricane ripped it apart.

* Florida's First Assembly of God, Wauchula (Peter Joudry, pastor) sustained approximately $500,000 worth of damages. The roof was opened on the east side and water flooded the building. All dry wall, electric, furniture and ceilings totally destroyed.

* First Assembly of God in Fort Meade (Charles Pemberton, pastor) sustained medium damage. It's an older building. The roof, eastern wall and interior were damaged. Damages may approach the total worth of the structure.

* First Assembly of God in Fort Myers (Dan Betzer, pastor) estimates its damage to be approximately $300,000. No significant structural damage but extensive damage to walk ways, roof tiles and shingles and a large portico joining the main auditorium and new children's ministry center. It was also reported that a young man who attended the church was killed by a falling tree.

* The church in Port Charlotte, Community Life Center (Warren Delling, pastor) only sustained minor shingle damage to the roof.

* Masterpiece Gardens, the Peninsular-Florida district camp and conference center, received damage to every building on campus. More than 1,000 trees were downed or damaged. Just the clean-up will be a huge challenge. First estimate is $100,000.00.

* New Jerusalem, Poinciana (Orlando Perez, pastor) the back part of its roof on its brand new building was blown off, damaging the area where the youth meet.

* Rose of Sharon, Fort Myers (Jimiro Feliciano, pastor) had its entire roof torn off. The storm destroyed some of the pews, brand new electrical equipment and ripped the carpeting off the floor. Reports that it "looked like a twister" had gone through the building.

* Other churches received relatively minor damage, including damage to playground equipment and a steeple blown off.

Meanwhile, A/G members have been volunteering through their churches and through the denomination’s relief group “Convoy of Hope” to provide food, water and shelter.

According to Steve Ewing, member of the Convoy of Hope, the situation in Florida was “like a scene out of a movie.”

"People were walking around with the heads in their hands, in desperation, in a daze . . . you give them some water and it's like you gave them a bar of gold." Ewing and other COH representatives have spent time praying for people who have been stunned by this disaster.

So far, some 450,000 pounds of water, food and cleaning supplies have been distributed to the victims through COH.

According to David Moore, senior director of administration for COH, water is of the highest need in the region, because tap water is still unavailable in most of the affected areas.

"Our number-one need is water and ice," Moore said. "We also need volunteers as many of the trucks are having to be unloaded by hand -- the available fork lifts in the area are often being used elsewhere." Moore also added that fencing is becoming a growing need as crowd control is becoming increasingly difficult.

Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church (USA) reported “serious damage” from two of their presbyteries in Florida. Two churches in the Peace River Presbytery were wiped out completely by Charley; their rooftops were torn off and the buildings were left as a pile of boardwood and splinters. The First Presbyterian Church in Punta Gorda was also reportedly “devastated.”

Five other churches in Peace River are reporting minimal to moderate damage: First Church in Port Charlotte; First Church in Arcadia; Burnt Store Presbyterian Church in Punta Gorda; Faith Church in Cape Coral; and First Church in Fort Myers, where the cross was torn off of the steeple.

Churches in the Tampa Bay Presbytery were also hit by the storm, but were not crushed as severely.

Churches in the Southern Baptist Convention also suffered severe damages.

Harbor Breeze Baptist Church in Punta Gorda was completely destroyed, so a handful of members gathered at a local park shelter Sunday morning for worship.

During the heavy service, the senior pastor Tom Moore led prayer with the touching words, "Our Father, we are grateful to you this morning for answered prayer."

Moore reminded the congregants that they themselves, and not the building, is the church of God.

"The church is not about a building," he said. "It's about the presence of God in a group of believers."

At Southside Baptist Church in Orlando, a large tree was uprooted, but the chapel remained in tact. However, because of the loss of electricity, congregants had to use small flash lights to brighten the pulpit.

"I think this storm brought its own message," said Pastor Jerry Glaze to the 20 people who had gathered for worship. "God is still on the throne. He controls all this stuff. ... We don't know why it all happens, but when you live by faith, you know that nothing is coincidence. Everything has a purpose. Sometimes God does things to get our attention."

Meanwhile, at the Eastside Baptist Church in Punta Gorda, congregants gathered on Sunday at the church’s parking lot to provide “Community Service.” While the roof was torn on the church’s education center and the power was out, miraculously the steeple remained standing; even the stained glass window was unharmed.

Some 40 people gathered that Sunday for worship, and they shared the grace and the protection they relieved from God, even though many of them had no money, no food no water and no homes.

"God doesn't tell us why things happen," Michael Mowry, pastor of Eastside, said. "And God doesn't give us the whys while we are going through it."

Mowry then encouraged his congregants to use the crisis as an opportunity to reach out to their neighbors.

"We need to practice loving our neighbors as ourselves," Mowry prayed. "Now is the time we can minister to the folks who need us."

United Methodists have also suffered damages in the area. On August 16, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)’s director of emergency services met with church-related disaster coordinators to assess the relief needs.

"We’re in the phase of trying to assess communities," said the Rev. David Harris, the Florida Conference’s disaster response coordinator and pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, Arcadia, Fla.

The goal for the Aug. 16 meeting would be to decide a strategy for the response, said the Rev. Larry Rankin, director of the conference’s Equipping Network’s Missions ministry and disaster response efforts. "Some areas . . . we just don’t know yet (the extent of damage) because of the communications. Many communities still do not have electricity or ways to communicate their needs," he said.

As of now, churches along the storm’s path will remain as the centers of relief coordination for the UMC. Church members have already been delivering food house to house and arranging cres to help tarp roofs so people remain tray.

“At Trinity, we opened our church up and delivered more than 1,000 meals to people on Aug. 15," said Harris.

Ultimately, Harris said, church-related relief efforts will have to remain for an extended period of time.

"This may take quite some time to finish working with those who are affected by this disaster. We [the United Methodist Church] are here for the long haul," he said. "When the news has stopped reporting the impact of Charley, when the agencies have all left Florida, we will still be here, and we will need to continue our focus on helping people."