UMCOR / Our Work / Disaster Response / Ongoing / Katrina & Rita / Bright Spots / Archives 2008 / 0320-Alabama West Florida

UMCOR Bright Spots

March 20, 2008

*AlabamaWest Florida Gives God the Glory for Effective Disaster Response
*Ministry Expanded into Bayou La Batre Affirms Witness
*This Week's Quote
*I AM "TOO HAPPY"...(slide show)


By Susan J. Meister, Domestic Disaster Response Correspondent

When Hurricane Katrina blew through the US Gulf Coast in August, 2005 the Alabama-West Florida Conference had already been in the disaster response business for a year, responding to not one, but two hurricanes. Ivan, the strongest hurricane of the 2004 season, made landfall on September 16 at Gulf Shores, Alabama. Dennis arrived on July 10, 2005, just 30 miles to the east of where Ivan had made landfall ten months before.

Executive Director of the Disaster Recovery Ministry, Clyde Pressley, gives God the glory for the work that’s been accomplished. “There have been so many miracles,” he said. “God sent us the people we needed and our church has been exceedingly generous.”

Alexandra and Clyde 200

Miss Alexandra was glad to share her appreciation with Clyde Pressley of the Alabama–West Florida Disaster Recovery Ministry.
Photo by Susan J. Meister/UMCOR

Pressley, who began his ministerial career as an Air Force chaplain, had just retired from local church ministry when Bishop Larry Goodpastor asked him to head up the ministry in the fall of 2004. A call center was set up immediately in the Mobile District office, and members of his weekly Bible study volunteered to answer the phones. “Volunteer teams would call in and we would send them to where we thought they would best fit,” Pressley continued. “I can’t tell you how many times I would get calls from the homeowners asking, ‘How did you know to send this particular team?’ I’d tell them, “It ain’t me, it’s God!””

Martha Wood was one of the early volunteers who later hired into case management. “I feel so blessed to be able to do this work,” she said.

Sandra Kennedy-Owes, director of casework services, joined the team after working for the Red Cross. “It was so refreshing to be in ministry,” she said, “and to talk about God and the blessings we were seeing.” Kennedy-Owes trained case managers of all denominations in the affected area in the best practices of case management developed by UMCOR.

Three hurricanes impact southern Alabama

Residents of Escambria County, in southern Alabama, experienced a “triple whammy” from three hurricanes—Ivan, Dennis and Katrina. In many cases, damage from Ivan wasn’t repaired or even addressed when Dennis and then Katrina blew through. As casework manager Sarah Atkeison described, “We find the poorest of the poor here—literally sitting in rotting houses with nowhere to go.”

Miss Irene feels so much better now that she in not breathing the mold that permeated her ruined home.

Miss Irene feels so much better now that she in not breathing the mold that permeated her ruined home.
Photo by Susan J. Meister/UMCOR

Atkieson and fellow case worker Sandra Gray work with clients in Atmore, Brewton and the surrounding area from their office in Atmore. Mobile and the volunteer center in Bayou La Batre including Atmore, are the offices that are currently in operation, although several additional locations were used to house volunteers and case managers over the past two and a half years.

Miss Irene lived with her two sons in a house that was in shreds around them. Rain came through the damaged roof and rotted tarps. She would try to catch the water in pots and pans. The Disaster Response Ministry determined the house could not be rebuilt and, instead, helped acquire a mobile home for Miss Irene. Now, despite her ongoing health problems, she is grateful for a place that is dry and where she doesn’t have to breathe in mold.

Miss Alexandra’s home was damaged when Ivan toppled an oak tree onto one side of the brick house. She, her husband Alex and four children (ages 5, 10, 15, and 19) stayed in their living room for nearly three years until the outside wall was repaired. “This is the second time the United Methodists have helped me,” Miss Alexandra said. “A church in Pensacola helped many years ago when my daughter was in the hospital!” Now, she is excited to reclaim the space in the repaired area of her home.

Deciding what's next

A scheduled meeting on February 17 with the Disaster Response Meeting was delayed when Director Pressley fielded calls from the state Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) about the February 16 tornadoes in Prattville. Although Pressley’s office is primarily organized to respond to Hurricanes Ivan, Dennis and Katrina, the staff is in a position to work with United Methodists and other groups to respond to ongoing needs. Pressley is on the state VOAD team, and he acknowledges groups are happy to see UMCOR’s involvement. “UMCOR is well-respected for the structure and organization it brings to long-term recovery,” he said.

“We are looking at the ongoing need and how we can meet it,” explained Pressley. “As we look into the future, we want to find a structure by which we can join God in this important work.”

Editor’s note: Sandra Kennedy-Owes will join the UMCOR staff as the Executive Secretary for Domestic Disaster Response on April 14.

For more on the United Methodist recovery work visit these web sites:

UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief)
UM News Service
Mississippi Conference
Louisiana Conference
Texas Conference
Alabama-West Florida Conference