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Frustration setting in

Trinity Lutheran Church hopes their Christian school will be able to open Monday, but they're not holding their breath.

BY HEATHER MOYER | KISSIMMEE, Fla. | August 22, 2004

"We're doing our best to organize and contact everyone."

—Jefferson Cox

Trinity Lutheran Church in Kissimmee, Florida, hopes their Christian school will be able to open Monday, but they're not holding their breath.

The church has been without power since Hurricane Charley hit, and the storm's heavy rains leaked through the windows in many of the classrooms. "Mold and mildew are a problem now," said Stan Satre, senior pastor of the church. "With no air conditioning or fans in there, we can't dry it out."

The fellowship hall of the church also suffered major water damage. High winds helped puncture holes in the roof, letting rain in during Charley and during rains since then.

Friday morning, Trinity member Tim Strongbow stopped by to let the church pastors know he'd been trying to get a tarp big enough to secure the roof of the hall. "I think we can patch it," he said with a sigh. "But at least we're getting all the trees cleaned up."

Around the front yard of the church, workers were sawing limbs and sweeping up branches littering the area. Associate Pastor Jefferson Cox said church members had also stopped by last weekend to help clean the church grounds - many of them doing so even though their own homes were significantly damaged.

"Other church members have been out checking in on each other," he said. "But it's hard right now with no power. We're doing our best to organize and contact everyone."

Cox said the area had been through disaster before when tornadoes hit in 1998, yet this time was significantly different. "Back then, the damage was just in one place," he explained. "This time, though, everyone is affected."

Over in the sweltering church offices, member Susan More was chatting with the secretary. "Our house did have damage, but nothing major," she said. "Yet the yard and neighborhood look like a war zone. And my husband's company was totaled."

More said she'd been in touch with their Synod office to request help. She added that at this point, she's just trying to put parishioners in touch with those who can meet their needs. "And then there's the school. Who knows if we'll be able to start Monday since there's no power," she lamented. "There was a rumor circulating earlier that it would be on by noon today, but that hasn't happened yet. Some are now saying it won't be on til Wednesday. We're hoping that the former will be closer to the truth."

Senior Pastor Satre produced a small smile. "In the meantime we're just hoping for no rain," he said.

Across the damage-riddled city of Kissimmee, residents are out picking up what they can. Roofs are missing, windows are shattered, and trees rest on crumpled cars. Many outsiders are surprised to hear that a city just south of Orlando was just as severely affected as those in southwest Florida, where Hurricane Charley came ashore.

Over at Kissimmee's First Baptist Church, Southern Baptist Convention Disaster relief has its incident command center set up for the areas north of Wauchula. That includes Lake Wales, Kissimmee, Orlando and Daytona. They have nine sites in the region where they're responding, and the incident command center is providing what coordination it can at the moment.

"We're still in the 'up' stage," laughed Incident Commander Donald Kimbell. "We've only got one phone line at this point and we're waiting on more."

The Kissimmee center also has a chainsaw unit that's currently out in the neighborhoods taking down trees. Kimbell said their roofing unit will be in the following week. "We plan on being here for three to six months," he said.

The command center itself is a communications trailer on loan from the Texas Baptist Men. Inside, volunteers map out damaged communities, staff the phone, and use other computer technology to focus the efforts in Kissimmee and the rest of the region the units are covering.

Florida residents are getting a helping hand from Southern Baptist teams from all over the country, including Minnesota, Maryland, Louisiana and North Carolina.

In Kissimmee, workers are also out doing assessments. "We try to serve the folks who can't afford it," said Mike Morgan, administration section chief at the incident command unit. "This includes those with special needs, the elderly, and others we find."

A week after Hurricane Charley rolled through, the frustration of the residents is showing.

"There are a lot of people hurting here," said a choked up Kimbell, pausing to regain his composure. "This is a tough situation. Many are overwhelmed and don't know what to do."

He shared a story of his stopping by a local store and seeing a man who just looked like he was in a bad place. "I told him to go stop by our trailers and we'd get him help," Kimbell said, tearing up.

He added that their efforts are focused on getting the command center up and running better so they can do more.

And the needs for the command center are basic and essential. "We're praying for more phone lines, too," said Kimbell and Morgan.

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