Churches step up as shelters for Harvey flooding victims
BELTON, Texas — In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, strangers…
As Hurricane Irma roared through Florida, dozens sought safety inside the Gulf Coast Church of Christ building in Fort Myers.
For about five hours Sunday, the crowd sat, listening to the roar of the wind as the eye of the storm passed right over them.
“Stuff was flying around and hitting,” Stephen Caldwell, associate minister for the Gulf Coast church, told The Christian Chronicle.
The winds were blowing rain sideways, forcing it into the building through any crack it could find. As the waters crept in, people from the church and community worked together to clean up.
“The people jumped in, without even being asked, to mop and clean up with towels and empty buckets,” Caldwell said.
The ground in Gulf Coast was already saturated from a storm Caldwell says dropped 12 inches of rain just two weeks ago. So, there was concern of how much flooding Irma’s rains would bring.
When the rain passed and the winds calmed, the crowd who had gathered inside the church building went outside. They found power lines down and tree limbs and other debris scattered throughout the area.
Florida’s emergency management officials say more than 6.5 million homes and businesses were left without power. While crews work to get the electricity back on, residents pick up around their towns.
“The lower lying areas are suffering from an abundance of water,” Caldwell said. “It is going down quickly.”
The damage was severe in some areas, but Caldwell says they all realize it could have been much worse.
“There’s nobody here in shock. Everyone’s jumping up helping folks,” he said.
Helping folks is what Eric Shepherd is doing, as well.
Shepherd, a member of the Rockledge Church of Christ on Florida’s East Coast, is a firefighter. After the storm passed, he was among the crews sent out to assess the damage and look for anyone trapped.
“We did have a collapsed building in our area, but no one was inside,” Shepherd said. “No storm surge in our area, but a few streets were flooded.”
In Miami-Dade County, at the Sunset Church of Christ, numerous trees are down. Church members are working now to clean up.
“The goal is to get all the shutters off the doors and to clear the parking lot for Sunday assembly,” minister Jim Holway said.
Shepherd said he’s been in Florida most of his life, and so he’s lived through several hurricanes. However, he said even the large ones he remembers were “mild compared to this one.”
He and Caldwell believe the warnings with this storm were taken seriously. People either made their way to shelters or left town early enough to miss the storm. However, the fear that came with the warnings did cause some problems.
“People scattered like doves being flushed from a field, and in some cases, without much thought,” Caldwell said.
Many found themselves stuck in traffic for hours or without enough gas to get out of the way of the storm.
Now that people are returning home, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is trying to make sure they have enough fuel to get there.
“At my direction, the Florida Highway Patrol will continue to escort fuel resupply trucks to gas stations so fuel is quickly delivered to our communities,” Scott said. “We will continue to work around the clock so Floridians have fuel at the pumps as our state begins to recover from this powerful storm.”
The governor has also waived a tax on fuel entering the state, to ensure Floridians can get the fuel they need in the coming days.
While the work to clean up is quickly moving ahead, Caldwell and Shepherd believe Florida will be able to recover quickly.
“We’ll get this thing,” Caldwell said. “I bet in three weeks you’ll hardly notice we had one.”
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