As an extremely dangerous Hurricane Florence churns its way toward the east coast of the United States, UCC Disaster Ministries is monitoring the situation through established networks and stands ready to support Church partners, Conferences and Congregations in Florence's path.
"I would like to encourage continued prayer for all the families, individuals, first responders and emergency management staff in the paths of the storm," said Zach Wolgemuth, Disaster Ministries executive.
Florence, a Category 3 storm Wednesday, September 12, downgraded overnight to a Category 2, is still a 500 mile-wide monster on a path that will put millions of people at risk and threaten billions of dollars in property damage. Centered on the Carolinas, Florence is expected to bring heavy rain and high winds driving storm surge flooding as it come ashore late tonight and early Friday morning before stalling and drenching the area this weekend. The impact of the storm is expected to be evident from Georgia to Maryland. A state of emergency has been declared in four states — South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, as well as Washington, D.C. — to help people prepare for the hurricane.
"If you have family and friends in any of these locations, I would strongly encourage that they heed the local and regional warnings being issued by emergency management officials," Wolgemuth said, a suggestion echoed by Southern Conference UCC leaders.
After a conference call Wednesday morning, Southern Conference Minister the Rev. Edward Davis and Conference Disaster Ministries Coordinator Jon Wallace issued a report recommending that those in the path prepare for landfall, collect information on the storm's track from accurate sources, and avoid the impulse to collect donations of any kind.
"Donated items can become very costly to store, maintain, and distribute," the report advises. "Soon after landfall local authorities will determine what items are needed and we will communicate those needs to you."
"Donors seeking the greatest impact should give financially to our 2018 hurricane relief effort," Wolgemuth said. "Cash is always the most effective and efficient form of support. It allows us to be flexible, nimble and fill crucial gaps in services."
"As much as people want to help during the height of the disaster, the very best thing to do is for people to pray for the situation, stay out of the impacted area until it is safe to be there, make a financial donation and/or assemble clean-up buckets," said the Rev. Phyllis Richards, program associate, One Great Hour of Sharing Offering and Endowment Fund. She cites a CBS news story which indicates how good intentioned disaster donations of clothing, water or other supplies can even be detrimental to those they were offered to help.
According to the SOC Disaster Ministries Coordinator, a number of faith communities in Florence's path are already coming together for hurricane pre-planning and eventual long-term recovery work.
"The Southern Conference has reached out to our 'formula of agreement denominations' i.e. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Christian church Disciples of Christ, and the Presbyterian Church USA to share information and consider joint ministry collaborations," Wallace said. "The thought is that with such a catastrophic disaster staring us down that the more we could perhaps share ideas and resources the better."
Disaster Ministries is also monitoring other storms in the Atlantic and the Pacific.
"We are clearly seeing a direct link to climate change in the severity and number of storms being experienced globally," Wolgemuth said. "Our response, as a human race, is going to require clear acknowledgement and swift action. If we want to support disaster survivors we must do our part to help prevent disasters by addressing our contribution to climate change. Our national debt is not just financial, it is also environmental and we can no longer ignore the future because the future is upon us."
Said Wolgemuth, "With your help we will be well positioned to respond and support our primary mission which is long term recovery."