Thursday, August 19, 2004

Charlotte County Devastation

I'm back from Punta Gorda, and as you've seen on the news, the area is devastated.

There's not a building in the area left unaffected. The fortunate ones merely had some trees uprooted and some guttering ripped of their homes, but those folks are few and far between. The vast majority of residents there suffered serious damage, from roofs being ripped off to structural collapses in parts of their homes.

It's the sort of destruction one sees with a tornado, only it's spread over hundreds of square miles. The group I was with was able to temporarily fix some roofs so that hopefully a few families can at least remain dry until the contractors can do the permanent repair work, but thousands of people are still functionally homeless.

I already mentioned some of the groups that are helping, but while there I found another group doing excellent work: Samaritan's Purse. In addition to opening mobile food, shower, and bathroom facilities (since there's still no running water in Punta Gorda or Port Charlotte), they're also coordinating and equipping volunteer aid workers. The coordination is essential to fanning out resources to where they can do the most good. If you're looking to donate financially to the relief efforts, Samaritan's Purse would be an excellent place to do it.

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention has also had a major presence on the scene, particularly in the area of food distribution. The local radio media has particularly noted the SBC's participation.

Though it's still early, I found the mood of the people I talked to in Punta Gorda to be optimistic. Most were thankful to have made it through with what they had, and were extremely grateful to those who are helping physically and financially. Residents and volunteers continually patrol neighborhoods to offer relief workers water, Gatorade, and ice. That's no small thing since the heat index in Southwest Florida has been hovering well over the 100 degree mark since the storm hit.

It's going to be months before there's any sense of normalcy in Punta Gorde, Port Charlotte, and the surrounding area. And it will be longer than that before everything's fixed or replaced.

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