On September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma made its way past our city, Cape Coral, Florida. The damage here was less than expected, but neighboring communities were hit hard. Irma was the seventh most intense hurricane to hit the United States mainland. (Hurricane Charlie in 2004 caused more damage in Cape Coral.)
Approaching Storm: As Hurricane Irma approached Southwest Florida, people prepared for it by putting up hurricane shutters and plywood over their windows to protect their belongings as best they could. Many residents braced themselves to stay, while many others fled to safer areas, and some sought refuge in area shelters and churches. A couple families who live in more vulnerable areas decided to camp out at our church, Living Faith Church.
The able-bodied who stayed at home stocked up on food, water and gasoline. The differences in people’s temperaments are highlighted at such times and the best and worst of human nature is seen. Some selfishly hoarded more supplies than they could possibly use and others selflessly helped others before and after the storm. Stores quickly ran out of supplies and they were hard to come by until some days after the storm.
The Storm: In some ways, the hurricane itself was the easiest part of the experience, as there was really nothing more that could be done except ride it out. In our home the electricity went out with an early gust of wind. With all the windows boarded up, the event was endured in dim candlelight. Thankfully, building codes are such that most homes built in recent years stood up to the high winds very well. We were thankful here that a storm surge was not the factor many feared.
Aftermath & Recovery: The days immediately following a hurricane are the most difficult. As soon as the storm passed, some shutters could be removed to let in light and fresh air, but with the power out, the Florida heat quickly became stifling. Without power, there was little news or information available about how hard the area was hit, or who was hurting and where. Immediately after the storm it was dangerous to drive because of downed trees, power lines and standing water.
In the days following, as information became available, people began to mobilize to help those who were hardest hit. At our church, a few individuals organized a relief effort to collect and distribute needed supplies in area communities. Multiple car and truck loads of non-perishable food, water, and hygiene supplies were delivered to distribution points here in Southwest Florida.
A kind of depression sets in after a storm like this. There are piles of branches, toppled trees, shingles and garbage along the roadside, along with the tarps covering damaged roofs. This all mars the beauty of an area ordinarily seen as a vacation spot. The mess will take a long time to clean up and repair. And yet, what we experienced here is nothing like the devastation experienced nearby. So we’re cautious about saying things like, “God answered our prayers,” because the prayers of neighbors nearby were not answered in the same way. The devastation of Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, the earthquake in Mexico City, the fires in California, and the massacre in Las Vegas—these all remind us that the earth is groaning and has been since the Fall into sin. This isn’t our home.
Martin Luther said, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbors do.” In the midst of suffering, it is heartening to see people come forward to help one another and share the love of Christ.
We are thankful for many people throughout the CLB who prayed and voiced concern for our church and its people both before and after the storm. May God bless you.
Rev. Pat Thurmer serves as pastor of Living Faith Lutheran Brethren Church in Cape Coral, Florida.