A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom
A late-season hurricane that swept the U.S. Northeast coast and a typhoon flooding the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines capped disaster-response efforts by United Methodists during 2012.
Although Typhoon Bopha made a deadly hit on Dec. 4 — killing at least 600 and washing away entire villages — many people were better prepared because of disaster risk-reduction training over the past year.
“We want to be proactive and not just react, so capacity-building among the people is the focus of our humanitarian response,” said Ciony Ayo-Eduarte, Philippines director for the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
UMCOR is helping with immediate relief work in Iligan and its hard-hit local districts of Tambacan, Mahayahay and San Roque, working alongside local partners BALSA Mindanao, a Mindanao-wide church network, and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, Eduarte said.
Two major storms that hit the United States and Caribbean in the latter half of 2012 were compared to Hurricane Katrina — Isaac, because of its timing and geographic location, and Sandy, in terms of its scope.
Almost seven years to the day that Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, Hurricane Isaac made its second landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 28, after striking Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Within 78 hours of the storm, an 18-wheeler from the UMCOR Sager Brown Depot in Baldwin, La., arrived in Buras with 1,200 cleaning buckets and 2,000 health kits. Emergency grants of $10,000 each also were sent to the Mississippi and Louisiana Annual (regional) conferences.
At the end of October, Hurricane Sandy made a stunning visual impact, flooding lower Manhattan in New York and dumping a seaside rollercoaster in the water on the Jersey Shore. But, six weeks later, those in flooded communities in New York and New Jersey still were struggling.
Even as church officials dealt with the effects of Sandy on church property — seven parsonages in New Jersey were flooded and more than 80 churches had some form of damage — the United Methodist response to survivors over the next few weeks included the distribution of thousands of cleaning buckets, the establishment of feeding and relief centers in churches and assessments and cleaning by trained volunteers.
Sandy knocked out power to a large part of New Jersey over an extended period of time, creating a new opportunity for ministry as churches became wifi hot spots and community centers.
The Greater New Jersey Annual Conference has hired a director, project manager and administrative assistant for its relief and recovery response. By Dec. 12, more than 15 United Methodist Early Response Teams from New Jersey and more than 18 teams from other states had assessed and cleaned New Jersey homes and churches, according to conference officials.
Seven tractor-trailer loads of disaster-relief kits, clothing, non-perishable food, pet food, space heaters, flashlights, batteries, linens and other items are being distributed through a multi-church network in New Jersey.
The New York Annual Conference also has been busy with emergency-response training, supply distribution and cleanup. On the south shore of Long Island, Community United Methodist Church in Massapequa quickly set up its own disaster-response offices. On Staten Island, teams have helped with mucking out in the Cedar Grove area.
New York Bishop Martin McLee reported Dec. 5 that more than $100,000 in donations for Sandy relief had been received from outside the conference, including $70,000 from UMCOR. Some 500 volunteers, from teams representing the area and 15 other annual conferences, have worked at relief sites.
On Dec. 10, a new disaster trailer arrived to be painted and equipped for the conference’s disaster recovery site at the Freeport United Methodist Church on Long Island. The trailer was purchased through donations from the Long Island East churches and others around the conference.
Other disasters during 2012 included: