Relief Agencies in Florida Prepare for Hurricane Frances

Millions of people were put on alert along Florida’s heavily populated east coast with Hurricane Frances due to hit land early tomorrow. At 75 miles wide, Hurricane Frances is three times bigger than Hurricane Charley, which ravaged the state barely three weeks ago. Relief agencies on-site are preparing for the potential impact of the storm.

“If this storm comes in as a Category 4 hurricane, the way it looks like it probably will, the damage is just going to be unbelievable,” said Meteorologist George Cullen. The National Meterological Center described Frances as the “biggest storm some people in Florida would see in a generation.”

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), which sent “Rapid Response” volunteers to Florida to help relief efforts after Hurricane Charley, reports that they are in close communication with other relief organizations as response plans are being developed.

"We have a great group of committed volunteers who love to serve those in need," explains Bill Adams, CRWRC's Disaster Response Administrator. "After our people responded to Hurricane Charley, we now have a new group of volunteers ready to respond to Frances."

In addition, Art Jackson, CRWRC's Regional Manager for the East Coast region, will head to Florida as soon as possible after the storm strikes. He will help determine the greatest areas of need and work with churches in Florida to coordinate their volunteer and outreach efforts. In addition to providing immediate clean-up assistance, CRWRC is committed to helping disaster survivors throughout their long-term recovery. They expect to be involved in home reconstruction and repair in Florida for the next couple of years.

Meanwhile, all out-of-state Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units and teams stationed throughout southwest Florida were being evacuated Sept. 1 as the state was bracing for Hurricane Frances.

Mickey Caison, manager of the North American Mission Board’s Disaster Operations Center near Atlanta, said most out-of-state Southern Baptist volunteers would be relocating to a temporary post in Perry, Ga., while some returned to their home states.

Caison said volunteers will be housed at First Baptist Church in Perry and equipment such as mobile kitchens and shower units will be stored at the neighboring agricultural center fairgrounds.

“Most of them cooked lunch this morning and are packing and pulling out,” Caison said on Wednesday.

The evacuation, Caison said, was initiated early instead of later to help disaster relief units avoid traffic delays usually associated with widespread evacuations.

As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, officials with the Florida Division of Emergency Management issued a call for voluntary evacuations for the state’s east coast.

Meanwhile, relief efforts in Cuba are continuing, as Hurricane Frances appeared to have directed away from the island nation.

Due to the early warning provided by the Weather Bureau and the Civil defense as well as the preparedness measures taken to protect the population, the death toll in Cuba from Hurricane Charley reached only four with five persons injured.

However, the physical damages were widespread. The affected province is the most densely populated area in Cuba where most of the important industries are located as well as the best agricultural land. According to the Civil Defense reports 40,100 houses were damaged and 8,300 totally destroyed. Damages to infrastructure: schools, hospitals, electricity, telephone and water distribution systems are extensive. Almost 2.5 million people had their electricity cut and water and gas systems were seriously affected. Agriculture in the area has also been severely affected with hundreds of hectares of banana plantations destroyed by the winds, root plantations damaged and fruit trees stripped of their fruit. The best tobacco plantations also suffered extensive destruction.

The Cuban Council of Churches (CCC), a member of Action by Churches Together (ACT), reports that due to the phone and electricity lines being cut in Havana City, they were unable to communicate with the outside world for several days. Their Emergency Committee visited the affected areas the day following the disaster to assess the situation. They report that in Havana there are still 3,300 people staying in the shelters that were set up by the Cuban Government before the Hurricane, while others are staying with relatives or friends.

In the rural areas, CCC has visited the area of Batabanó in the south of Havana where giant waves and swirling winds lashed the coastal areas leaving an area of total destruction. CCC also visited the areas of Guira de Mena, Alquízar, Melena del Sur and Bejucal where damage to houses and agriculture is extensive.

CCC is finalizing their assessment of needs and possible areas of intervention. An appeal will be forthcoming.