Church Groups Respond to Wilma-Hit Areas Under Grim Conditions

Relief aid groups were prepared weeks in advance for the havoc Hurricane Wilma was to bring on Florida, and have already moved in disaster relief teams and supplies after the storms' departure Monday. Yet many Floridians are still without food or water on the third day of recovery.

Gov. Jeb Bush took responsibility for the slow aid efforts and delayed supplies as local and state officials described a number of obstructions. Communication was difficult with cell phone service down, thus slowing relief work and the delivery of food and water.

Power is lost in millions of homes with 20 percent of 6 million now with electricity and Florida Power & Light, the state's largest utility, predicts full restoration could take weeks.

The supplying of provisions began to pick up speed and efficiency on Wednesday as gas stations and airports opened and streets were cleared.

Lutheran Disaster Response has assessed and identified damages and areas of need to coordinate relief work.

"Our local Lutheran Disaster Response affiliate, Lutheran Services in Florida, Tampa, is coordinating volunteers to help with clean-up and rebuilding efforts," said Heather L. Feltman, director for Lutheran Disaster Response and director for ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, according to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America news service.

Efforts for recovery in the storm-stricken areas of Florida will not only address the physical needs of the damaged cities and the hungry but also the spiritual needs of those affected by Wilma. Lutheran Disaster Response will deploy spiritual care teams, reported Feltman, into hurricane-impacted areas.

While relief teams are dispatched throughout Florida, others are focused more on the harder hit regions of Mexico, including the Yucatan peninsula that went under the storm's rage for two days.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee has a long-established presence in Florida with reconstruction efforts that have been underway since last year’s hurricanes and will continue to offer help in relief work in response to Wilma. However, Jacob Kramer, head of the CRWRC's relief team, drew attention to the greater impediments of social and economic status in Mexico that call for much assistance.

"In general, we are talking about a population with low social and economic mobility – many poor families and older people," he said, according to a statement.

With a lack of infrastructure and supplies, the situation in Cancun is deteriorating, reported Bill Van Tol, a field leader in Mexico with Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM).

"People are getting more and more desperate," he said in an e-mail to supporters in North America, according to the Christian Reformed Church. "The city is under curfew and the army is coming in. But looting is rampant. The hotel strip is devastated with much beach gone. Some hotels have lost all sand right up to their exposed foundations and many have all windows blown out and interiors totally destroyed. Thousands will have no jobs to go back to in the tourist industry for quite a while."

Although disaster response teams are on-site to provide the necessary means and care for the millions of residents and tourists who suffered under the torrent of the storm, relief teams ask the American public for continual support.

"Your prayers and gifts are needed in response to this most recent hurricane," said Kathryn Sime, director, ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal.