Volunteers and local community members distribute food to Jesús Obrero (Jesus the Worker) in Fort Myers, Florida Parish on October 4, 2022, the day after Hurricane Ian. (SNC Photo/Tom Tracy)
FORT MYERS, Fla. (CNS) – Father Patrick O’Connor, pastor of Jesús Obrero (Jesus the Worker) Parish, northwest of downtown Fort Myers, orchestrated a familiar operation Oct. 4 as he was hanging out in his church hall stacked with Garments.
According to Father O’Connor, an efficient food and water distribution line was in full swing to serve approximately several thousand members of the community, mostly farm workers and Hispanics, who arrived on the busiest day of food distribution. emergency supplies since Ian’s arrival.
Volunteers from a Spanish-language radio station in West Palm Beach had just finished unloading a delivery of donated supplies when Father O’Connor came over to offer hugs and a blessing, as well as the obligatory group photo with the staff from the radio station.
“They spread the word and brought us five trucks full of water, food, baby clothes and items, diapers and feminine products and all sorts of things people need right now. moment – especially in East Fort Meyers which has been so affected. hard,” Father O’Connor said of the radio station delivery.
It was a function that the same priest and parish pantry performed after Hurricane Irma of 2017 and now they were back after the even more devastating Category 4 Hurricane Ian that swept through the Southwest. west Florida after making landfall a week earlier on the state’s west coast. .
“It’s a very poor community in this part of Fort Meyers, and they can’t really get out of here like others can – so they’re kind of stuck,” said the priest, who is an Oblate. of Saint Francis of Sales.
The total number of deaths in the Lee County area alone, which includes the city of Fort Myers, has been estimated at 45. The toll for Florida is much higher, but the number is expected to rise as the cause of death was still pending for many others.
Father O’Connor said his immigrant community, made up mostly of Mexican and Central American workers, needed the food and water donations the most right now, as the situation at the chain of supply was not excellent.
The city of Fort Myers reportedly has water, but warned it remains contaminated and unsafe to consume without boiling at this time. He noted that people in this community don’t have the luxury of traveling to other communities to buy supplies or waiting for some modicum of normality to come back here.
“Part of the county doesn’t even have water for the houses yet; days have passed without water in some houses,” the priest said.
Sister Maria Isabela Jaimes, a Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate Mary from Bucaramanga, Colombia, who helped at Jesus the Worker Church, said she had never experienced a hurricane crisis before Irma.
“Thank God I’m alive, but that’s because I was able to evacuate before the storm hit,” the nun said in Spanish. “But I feel very close to how my brothers and sisters suffered because of this hurricane, and I realized the greatness of God but also the respect for the power of nature.”
Sister Jaimes said the community was in relatively good spirits a week later as it went into recovery mode.
“I see people accepting God’s will; they are at peace, they are calm now,” she said. “They come looking for (donated) goods, but what they really need is solidarity and inner peace, and community.”
At the Elizabeth Kay Galeana Catholic Charities Center in nearby Fort Myers, Alex Olivares, regional director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Venice, helped distribute water and emergency supplies. Tree removal crews and nearby power companies were busy with cleanup projects.
“This storm hit us very hard; some people were expecting it, but most people weren’t, so everyone is struggling. A lot of people still don’t have water or electricity,” Olivares said.
Compared to Hurricane Irma, Olivares said he thinks Hurricane Ian is going to be less severe, but it appears to have been much worse for this Latino and African American community known locally as Dunbar.
A local Catholic Charities employee lost his entire house to the flooding, Olivares said.
“The damage was catastrophic in some areas; parts of Fort Myers were really destroyed,” he said.
Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reportedly said repairs to the Pine Island Bridge should be completed by the end of the week so that debris removal and utility crews can move to the restoration of the current.
Pine Island is one of the barrier islands hardest hit by Hurricane Ian, along with Sanibel, which is expected to remain largely inaccessible after Ian destroyed the causeway.
Fort Myers Beach was also badly damaged by Ian; DeSantis described it as a complete disaster area. Many communities from Naples north to Sarasota and beyond are still waiting for power to be restored.
A newspaper reported that around a quarter of the 2.2 million power outages have been restored since Ian made landfall.
The Florida Department of Emergency Management has also deployed some 11 refueling stations across the state, and a mobile fuel truck has been deployed to the hard-hit inland city of Arcadia to assist residents without access to fuel.
The governor also announced the opening of the first disaster recovery center for Floridians affected by Hurricane Ian at the Lakes Regional Library in Fort Myers.
Fr O’Connor urged water and food supplies to be directed to rural and farm worker communities like his.
“They are very hard working people,” said Father O’Connor. “They work in restaurants, construction, landscaping, they’re cooks, they’re chefs, road crews, they do all the heavy lifting; farm workers – they are the backbone of the community and they are the ones who will clean up everything after that and will be a fundamental and important part of rebuilding the whole community.
“Right now they are in crisis and need so much help,” he added.