Update on Hurricane Irma in Florida

By: Caroline Hamilton-Arnold, Associate Director

 "We feel a bit forgotten," said one homeowner south of Daytona, Florida, during my recent visit. After sharing the frustrations of understaffed FEMA offices and the rapidly diminishing numbers of volunteers coming to help with cleanup and rebuild, she said frankly: "I know the situation is worse in Puerto Rico and across Texas, but I need help, too."

After causing extreme damage across the Caribbean as the strongest Atlantic hurricane since Wilma in 2005, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida as a Category 3 hurricane and proceeded up the backbone of the peninsula. Some of the hardest hit areas were not in the path of the eye, but along the east coast, where the "dirty side" of the hurricane caused extensive wind damage and flooding. In Daytona, flooding came from multiple sources: storm surge, rising rivers, and overwhelmed city drainage. This disaster came on the heels of Hurricane Harvey and just before Hurricane Maria.

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Even three weeks after the hurricane, water levels remained precariously high.    Moderate rains overwhelmed the drainage system, causing roads to flood again.

To complicate the situation, Irma hit just short of one year after Hurricane Matthew, which caused devastation in Haiti and across the Caribbean before traveling parallel to Florida's east coast. In Volusia County, which includes the city of Daytona, more than 17,000 households received assistance from FEMA. Of those, 8,000 households were elderly, disabled, or low-income, and needed additional assistance to recover. In partnership with the Disaster Ministries of the United Church of Christ, Week of Compassion has been supporting Volusia Interfaiths/Agencies Networking in Disaster (VIND), which offices at First Christian Church, Daytona. VIND is assisting homeowners who were either displaced from their homes or living in unsafe conditions. They have 200 more homes currently in process.

Many of the families affected by Hurricane Matthew were affected again by Hurricane Irma. Some of the hardest hit were those who had roof damage--the high winds destroyed the tarps, which had been covering holes, preventing water intrusion and further damage. One house--owned by two elderly sisters--has a 10 inch hole in roof caused by Hurricane Harvey. Just a few days before my visit, the ceiling in one room collapsed because of water that rained in during Hurricane Irma.

Week of Compassion will continue to support VIND as they assist families affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The unique situation provides an opportunity--because they are already working to recover from Hurricane Matthew, VIND has infrastructure in place to receive volunteers for repairs and rebuilding. Where it typically takes 6-9 months for communities to be ready to receive volunteers after a disaster, Volusia County is ready and eager for volunteers! (Find out more and register your group here!) Because Hurricanes Harvey and Maria were unprecedented in size and scope, media attention and volunteer efforts have diminished in Florida. Your support is needed!