Global Agency Assessing Damages to Florida's Most Vulnerable

CWS aid workers are assessing the needs of Florida's most vulnerable residents and determining damage to churches and other spiritual centers.
( [email protected] ) Aug 20, 2004 10:48 AM EDT

With more than 140,000 people either permanently or temporarily displaced due to Hurricane Charley, aid workers are covering all 25 of Florida’s damaged counties to assess the needs of the state’s most vulnerable residents and to determine damage to churches, mosques, synagogues and community food pantries.

Miami resident and Church World Service (CWS) Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Lesli Remaly says, "This recovery is going to take years, and we will need to champion the cause of communities where other groups are not going."

Working yesterday in Orange County, Remaly said, "We are seeking out communities that have not yet received a lot of attention.”

“There is also particular concern for those who were vulnerable even before Charley,” Remaly added. “So we’re assessing the immediate and long term recovery needs of the uninsured and the under-insured, the elderly and disabled, those who live alone, the homeless, and such groups as migrant farm workers, immigrants, people whose first language isn’t English, the Seminole, Miccousukee and other native groups in impacted areas.”

The death toll has risen to 22 as a result of the hurricane, one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history. FEMA has declared 25 of 67 counties as eligible for federal disaster assistance.

In Osceola, Charlotte, DeSoto, Lee, Hardee, Polk and Sarasota counties alone 88,375 housing units were damaged, leaving 141,647 persons either temporarily or permanently displaced. 2,494 housing units were totally destroyed in those counties.

Reporting from Orlando Tuesday, CWS Emergency Response Program staff member Melina Pavlides said day-to-day life is still seriously disrupted even in areas such as Orlando where Charley did not do the same level of damage as it did on Florida's Gulf Coast.

"Trees and debris are still blocking roads, power remains off in some areas, and lack of traffic lights here has disrupted traffic and caused several traffic-related fatalities," Pavlides said.

Approximately 388,000 customers in Florida are still without power, and power outages are affecting phone service and sewage treatment plants’ operations, FEMA reported. Power is expected to be restored by Friday, Aug. 20. 2,626 people are still in shelters.

Church World Service’s response in Florida will be substantial for many months to come,” said the agency’s Emergency Response Program Director Rick 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.

Disaster response liaison Remaly added, “At this point, no one knows the damage done to churches and other spiritual centers or to food pantries and other community helping agencies in the affected areas. CWS will be assessing that damage.”

Emergency teams from across the country are already in Florida to provide mental health counseling, according to Augsburger. “But,” he says, “spiritual needs and resources need to be assessed and addressed.”

Augsburger adds 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,” explains Remaly, “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.”

Global agency Church World Service provides sustainable self-help and development, disaster relief, advocacy and refugee assistance worldwide and is supported in part by 36 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations. The New-York based agency responds to natural and human-caused disasters internationally and domestically and in the U.S. specializes in working with local faith communities, social service agencies and emergency management partners, assisting vulnerable populations.

Church World Service is one of the first aid agencies called by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) along with the Red Cross in times of national disaster.