News and Views

A letter home from hurricane-swept Florida

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The Rev. Susan Duchesneau, a retired Elder in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, now lives in Punta Gorda, Florida. On Oct. 3, she wrote a letter to the people of Ferndale UMC where she was a pastor. With her permission, we share it with you.

Greetings!  Our family is safe in Punta Gorda, we have back our water, and, as of yesterday, power!  We are ever so grateful for the power company workers from all of the country who had arrived here before the storm, set up camps (literally) and waited to get to work after the storm went through, neighborhood by neighborhood. Four days after this Category 4/5 storm, our power was restored. It was a long four days for us who are so spoiled by our conveniences. 

We chose to stay in our home, given the information about where the severe flooding might occur. For us, it was the 130-160 mph winds and gusts that rumbled around us, that took away many of the shingles on our roof, and rearranged our yard. The wind noise gave the sense of a haunted house, especially at night!

It was an anxious time as we waited through the storm with no contact with the "outside world" for about 36 hours. We had friends texting us from up north, telling us what was happening outside of our storm shutters, and providing news of other areas in southwest Florida. 

Once we lost electricity, early in the storm with Ian's landfall, most of the communication networks (radio, TV, internet) weren't available to us. One station went off the air completely due to storm damage. Our battery powered radio was sporadic and static-y at best. We dared not open our refrigerator or freezer to expel what was left of the cold air inside. Even so, most or our food will be discarded as soon as trash removal has begun again. 

Gasoline and propane, gas cans and propane tanks are impossible to find and are in high demand, as folks without power need to fuel their generators. Batteries of any size are virtually non-existent. FEMA, supported by the National Guard, was ready to go early-on (here and elsewhere) with drive-through pick-up stations distributing tarps, ice, MREs (so much improved than when Gary was active in the Maryland Guard) and even freshly made sandwiches sent over from a business on the east coast.

Even now, when word gets out about a gas station with a new supply of fuel, the lines form quickly. Gary was at the one-mile point, yesterday, in line for gas, and the tanks ran dry before he reached the pumps. The previous day he and I waited three hours for gas and were successful in filling our car and one gas can. There is a limit of two. Our wait in line for the FEMA distribution center was over an hour, with miles of cars in front of and behind us. This is just a microcosm of what life is like for every resident of Southwest and some other areas of Florida.

Our roof lost half of its tiles and two small solar panels. Ours and our neighbors' yards are full of our aluminum roof tiles and "shared" vegetation. So far, the roof has not leaked. An enormous silver palm tree fell into our yard from next door. If it had fallen just a few degrees differently, it would have crashed into our house. Our neighbor's large sailboat that had been secured out of the water on a lift has now sunk, with mast broken across their yard. 

We have been "inconvenienced" by Ian, but countless people (more than you hear about on TV)  have suffered terrible loss from winds and/or flooding  Many of our friends who live just a few miles farther south than we do are either living in makeshift housing, waiting in shelters, shoveling sand or mud from their water-soaked homes, or worse. 

Thousands, left homeless, will have to make public shelters their temporary homes for months while other arrangements can be made. Countless families who could not afford flood insurance beforehand are now with little hope except for FEMA and church/private donation support.

 Please -- Do not underestimate the amount of widespread poverty and homelessness here in Florida. You will not hear about that on the news. 

People from the north have asked, "Why didn't these people get out before the storm?" Thousands did, many tried and were caught in horrendous traffic jams, some did not want to abandon their pets (who were not welcome at all shelters.) But then there are the seldom thought-about low-income population. These are the forgotten people after the storm as the rest of us move toward recovery.

 Most shelters are set up in schools, which makes children's return to school a difficult problem. There are only a few large arena-type shelters in the hard-hit areas of Florida. Many pets are either lost or orphaned. Wild animals like gators, snakes, Florida panthers and brown bears have been forced out of their own environments and are wandering through neighborhoods foraging for food. Fish are found swimming in flooded streets. Bacteria levels are high.

Anyone who discounts climate change should take a serious look at the hard facts. The oceans are warming, storms are becoming more frequent and more severe. We must do better! Our family is now more committed than ever to change more of our habits to do more for the greater good of the environment.

The destructive factors from changes in weather and the resultant conditions and circumstances are not isolated to Florida. Similar disasters are increasing in force, duration and frequency throughout our world. 

If we focus solely on the Maryland - D.C. area, think about the "good old days."  How many tornadoes, hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, freezes and blizzards can you remember? I remember few compared to current times.  We are humbled and thankful to God for keeping us safe. We have learned a great lesson about how spoiled we have been (and still are) by the taken-for-granted comforts of daily life. 

 Thank you for your prayers; we ask that they continue for all of the families and individuals affected in Florida and beyond as Ian traveled up the coast.

 You have probably already seen or received requests for monetary or material donations for hurricane survivors (I don't like the word "victims.")

 I strongly encourage you to choose UMCOR to make your donation. The United Methodist Committee on Relief will forward every cent of your offering to help with the disaster. (We are the hands of Christ. What you give or do is an offering to him. Mt. 25:40), Many other charities (probably most) take a percentage off the top for "administrative costs."   UMCOR does not.  

United Methodists have always been generous when it comes to mission giving and work. I pray you will prayerfully consider what you can afford to send or do to help the people affected get the needed food, clothing, and shelter; and, with God's help, return to wholeness of life.

Thank you for your continuing generosity, and blessings to all.
+ Pastor Susan