[Episcopal News Service] Nearly a week after Hurricane Ian became one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Florida, the extent of the damage is becoming clearer, with communities across the southeastern United States affected in varying degrees and catastrophic destruction concentrated in the coastal area around Fort Myers. Episcopalians in the Diocese of Southwest Florida and beyond are banding together to begin the long process of recovery, beginning with addressing the immediate needs of people whose homes have been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.
Internet and phone service outages, impassable roads, gasoline shortages and curfews have made it difficult, if not impossible, for some parishes to understand how their buildings and parishioners are doing. A few — including St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church on Sanibel Island — have taken to Facebook to share updates on who has been confirmed safe and who has not. Five days after the storm hit, the Reverend Bill Van Oss, rector, and his wife Sue, the parish communications director, were still trying to track down a few parishioners to make sure they were safe.
The Van Osses and other parish leaders have called parishioners to find out who is safe off the island – who has lost part of the causeway connecting it to the mainland – and who has been rescued by helicopter. The urgency to find their parishioners largely overshadowed the status of their building, but an aerial survey brought good news: unlike many buildings on the island, the church appeared mostly intact, albeit surrounded by water. of flood.
In a message to the parish, Bill Van Oss said he was working with the vestry to secure an off-island space for gathering and worship in the meantime.
“We will not only rebuild our church, but we will rebuild our community,” Van Oss said. “We will take care of each other. The church is the people. The church is you and me. The church is a building, and it will be rebuilt, but we are a people and we will be sustained.
Other churches suffered significant damage but were able to reopen and begin repairs with the help of volunteers, such as the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on the mainland in Punta Gorda. The roof and ceiling above the chapel were damaged, leaving a mess of insulation and plaster inside, although its Tiffany window was intact, along with the main nave and the school.
“Some of our parishioners suffered damage to their homes, but thank God no loss of life,” parish finance director Ashley Workman told Episcopal News Service. “We will get through this as long as we have each other. When it rains, it pours, but the good thing is that it can’t rain all the time.
Volunteers from three other parishes in the diocese came to Good Shepherd to help clean the chapel on October 1, and Sunday services were held as usual the next day.
St. John’s Episcopal Church in Naples was inundated by a storm surge that reached up to four feet, destroying books and Sunday school materials and leaving silt on the floors.
But repair efforts soon began, and Sunday services were held outdoors on October 2.
Churches that suffered minimal damage offered their spaces to those in need. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Marco Island has become a distribution center for relief supplies, in addition to its normal pantry service.
St. Monica’s Episcopal Church in Naples offered its space on Sunday afternoons for other churches to gather for worship and prepared and distributed several hundred meals as part of the Feed Thy Neighbor program.
All Angels by the Sea Episcopal Church on Longboat Key was spared by Ian, although the surrounding area was not. At the request of the city clerk, it became a comfort center, providing electricity, air conditioning, internet service, food and water, staffed by volunteer parishioners. On October 3, almost 20 people came to charge devices, use the Internet or just rest. They even installed outdoor speakers — purchased during the COVID-19 pandemic to run services outdoors — and played relaxing music for utility workers carrying out repairs.
“God is very effective and uses all kinds of opportunities to show us our love for God and our neighbors,” Reverend Dave Marshall, rector, told ENS.
Hurricane Ian, which made landfall on September 28 as a Category 4 storm, claimed at least 100 lives. Before hitting southwest Florida, it hit Cuba, which continues its recovery.
Ian came 10 days after Hurricane Fiona hit the southwest coast of Puerto Rico on September 18 as a Category 1 storm, killing at least 13 people and leaving 100,000 Puerto Ricans without power two weeks later.
The San Andres de Mayagüez Church serves as a help center in the West Region.
– Egan Millard is associate editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.