Episcopal Charities Response to Hurricane Irma Disaster
Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys on September 10, 2017 as a Category 4 Hurricane, destroying or damaging over 10,000 homes and rendering thousands of people homeless.
Due to the mandatory evacuation and the breakdown of electricity and water to the island chain as well as damaged and destroyed roads, residents were not allowed to return to the Florida Keys for many days. When the evacuation order was lifted people returned to find wholesale destruction of homes, vehicles and businesses.
The Keys Deanery is made up of five churches along the island chain, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s (Key West), St. Francis (Big Pine), St. Columba (Marathon), St. James (Islamorada). Once communication was set up in the Keys an assessment of damage done in each geographic area, St. Francis (Big Pine Key) and St. Columba (Marathon) were identified as the hardest hit areas.
Initially, the island chain was under National Guard and Emergency Management rules with curfews, check points and limited communications. Bishop Peter Eaton initiated a daily phone call for a diocesan wide check, in order to support and ascertain damage and needs assessment. In addition, Bishop Eaton traveled to the Florida Keys to make an on the ground assessment of the damage to the churches as well as surrounding areas. Because of Episcopal Charities unique position in the Diocese as a connector to and funder of feeding and shelter ministries in the Keys, we were asked to be the point agency for disaster relief and recovery, writing grants, coordinating trucks, gift cards, and volunteers from around the United States making their way to the Florida Keys. Episcopal Charities has attempted to recreate the activities of the past six months and in reflecting upon the response has suggested to the diocese a structure for preparation for further disasters of all kinds.