In midst of 2020 hurricane season, caseworkers wrap up Irma, Michael repairs


By Kara Witherow, Editor

When Hurricane Michael swept through southwest Georgia in October 2018, its strong winds toppled trees throughout the region.

In Brinson, about 10 miles from hard-hit Donalsonville, a large Live Oak limb slammed into Gloria Singleton’s roof. A large Sweetgum tree hit the back of the house so hard it cracked the kitchen’s ceiling.          

More than a year after the hurricane, Singleton was still living with tarps on her roof, waiting for repairs. Mold was starting to creep in, she said, and every time it rained outside, it rained inside, too.

Today, though, thanks to South Georgia Conference’s Disaster Response ministry and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Singleton’s roof and walls are repaired and she can once again cook safely in her kitchen.

“Everything was piling up on us and then they came by and helped us, and it was a blessing,” said Singleton of the South Georgia United Methodist caseworkers who offered assistance after seeing the tarps on her home. “I had a house that had water coming in the kitchen and on top of the sink and everything, and they helped me out a lot.”

Nearly two years after the devastating Category 3 storm hit, South Georgia United Methodist caseworkers are wrapping up their work after helping 118 families recover from the hurricane.

“It was wonderful to be able to help so many people,” said Rev. George Masciarelli, who served as Recovery Coordinator for Hurricane Michael. “People are grateful for the help they received.”

Rev. Masciarelli and his team, funded through the connection by a UMCOR grant, focused on Decatur, Early, Seminole, and Miller Counties, the four counties where Hurricane Michael first entered when it came into Georgia.

In the past year Rev. Masciarelli has seen frustration turn to gratitude and those who suffered the wrath of Hurricane Michael reach out to those in Hurricane Laura’s path. Friendship United Methodist Church in hard-hit Donalsonville recently sent their shower trailer to Fairhope, Ala. to help aid in the community’s recovery.

Across the state in Savannah, Rev. Aimee Baxter has wrapped up her Hurricane Irma relief work, three years after the storm struck the coast.

Following Hurricane Irma, six counties along Georgia’s coast, plus Coffee County further inland, received FEMA declarations. A United Methodist deacon, Rev. Baxter has served as a case manager in Savannah and Chatham County to help 40 families restore their homes and lives.

Many of the cases she’s handled have dealt with tree damage, roof repairs, and flooding repairs.

“Mostly it’s where the trees fall and the flood waters rise,” she said.

While much of the community has moved on, those who are still recovering are weary but grateful for the assistance.

“Even years later you can sense the relief in them that this part is taken care of,” Rev. Baxter said.

Rev. Baxter and her husband, Rev. Shannon Baxter, are both members of the Coastal Empire Disaster Recovery Committee (CEDRC), a collaborative organization to prepare for, assist with, and recover from disasters. Kelly Crane, the South Georgia Conference’s Coastal District Disaster Response Coordinator, is also a member. As an organization, CEDRC has helped nearly 300 Savannah and Chatham County residents recover from the storm, Rev. Baxter said.

Rev. Shannon Baxter serves as president of CEDRC, and seeing the group’s growth, collaboration, and response to needs has been amazing, Rev. Aimee Baxter said.

And although South Georgia has so far this season been spared a major storm, now is the time to remain prepared and vigilant.

“Be aware. I don’t think people realize how long it takes to recover from a disaster. I don’t think you ever fully recover in some sense – some things are never the same. Keep paying attention and don’t forget. It’s a long, long, long journey,” Rev. Baxter said.

“These are people just like us. Hard workers who had an unfortunate event, and any one of us could find ourselves in their shoes. And it’s such a gift when we’re able to give help with no strings attached.”