Bermudians Begin Cleanup After Hurricane Gonzalo


By Erik Alsgaard, from the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church

Hurricane Gonzalo, a category 2 storm with winds near 110 miles per hour, delivered a direct hit on the island nation of Bermuda Friday and Saturday, Oct. 17 and 18. No deaths have been reported in the wake of the storm, but extensive damage has occurred throughout the island, according to published reports.

The storm, which weakened from a category 4 hurricane just before making landfall in the British Overseas Territory, is poised to hit Great Britain latter this week with 60 mile per hour winds and drenching rains.

The Rev. Joe Daniels, Greater Washington District Superintendent in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, has been in touch with both United Methodist churches on Bermuda. The Rev. Joe Whalen, pastor of Marsden First UMC, said that the church sustained “major damage” to its roof but that his home sustained no damage. The majority of the island, he reports, is without power and property destruction is widespread.

The Rev. Dick Stetler, pastor of Centenary UMC, reports that their end of the island was spared most of the damage. The church sustained only minor damage and hosted worship services there Sunday morning.

The two United Methodist churches in Bermuda have been a part of the Baltimore-Washington Conference since 2002 when they left the United Church of Canada. Marsden First UMC is a predominately black congregation; Centenary UMC predominately white.

Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop Marcus Matthews issued a request to UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) even while the storm was pounding the island, paving the way for denominational resources to come in. Matthews had urged members of the Conference to observe a moment of prayer during worship services on Oct. 19.

“We know that praying is a central part of our faith,” the bishop said. “When the time is right, we will put our prayers into action and help however we can with the clean-up and restoration of those affected by the hurricane.”

Whalen, who has served in Bermuda since 2001, said that he and his wife, Heather, weathered the storm without major incident.

“We lost power early,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The majority of the island is without power. There was a lot of destruction across the island.”

Hurricane Gonzalo was the second tropical storm to hit Bermuda in less than a week. Tropical Storm Fay hit the island on Sunday, Oct. 12, with winds nearing 80 miles per hour. Whalen said the one-two punch has rattled some people’s nerves.

“Continue to keep us in your prayers,” he said. “We have no idea how long we will be without power and phone lines. Our cell phone service is hit and miss. We have to drive around just to find service.”

On Sunday, Oct. 19, Kurte Loescher, a member of Centenary, reported by e-mail that extensive clean-up measures were underway.

“There was no civilized luxury of church worship today for the householders in our neighbourhood,” Loescher wrote. “Most of our men were up on their roofs in the baking sun with water hoses, brushes and buckets, clearing away debris from the gutters, hosing off the slate and unplugging the gutters. If we wait, it might be weeks before a good hard rain. By then, the Bermudaful sun will have baked the salt into an impenetrable crust.”

Loescher noted that most of the roads were already clear enough to drive at “normal” speeds, but that electric poles and trees were down everywhere.

Bermudians, she noted, by their very nature are a resilient people.

“There are some, notably those in their 60’s and 70’s, who appear to be savouring a return to simpler, less complicated days… bucket washes, quiet candle light evenings, verbal verses electronic conversations and entertainment,” Loescher wrote. “Even so, we are all, after two remarkable storms in 6 days, collectively exhausted. There are rumours of another storm a week away.  Only rumours. Even so, people are rattled. Understandable.”

There is one thing people in Bermuda now agree upon, Loescher said: “Gorilla Tape is amazing!  Get some because there will be another storm sooner than we want.”