#ToKnow Hurricane Irma Impact, Response and Renewal: Direct Hit

It is mind-numbing to think of the past four months here at Saint John.  It was on September 10, 2017, that the single worst natural disaster to befall our Parish Family occurred.  There are many of you who have lived every single day here with us here in Naples, with the fear of the impending storm, the shock at the aftermath, and the determination to pick up the pieces.  However, there are now others who are just returning to the area and they may not have the visceral reaction to the massive amount of damage in our region.  Father John and I felt it would be appropriate and important to share the significant impact that Hurricane Irma had and continues to have on our Parish Family.

How could it be?

A Category 5 Hurricane was barreling straight down onto

Naples.  Just a day before, the forecast had it skirting Miami, with a minor impact to our Southwest Florida shores.  Now, it could be a killer, with storm surge potentially over 10 feet.  A storm of that magnitude would flood the entire church up and over the altar.  The campus would be decimated.  The neighborhood could be washed away.  People’s homes, their lives could be wiped off the face of the earth.  What could we do?  We are very blessed to have a dedicated set of staff here at St. John who all took time out of their own personal preparations to ensure our campus was locked down.  I could see the fear in the eyes of our Parish Family and staff during the week.  We waterproofed the equipment and Father Bob took responsibility to protect the Blessed Sacrament.  Our staff activated the Parish All-Hazards Incident Response Plan, ensuring communication and efforts for our church would continue no matter what happened.  Father John joined our calls and communication from England as he was not able to get a flight back in time for the storm’s impact.  With our last Mass on Saturday, September 9, we locked up and sandbagged our church, not sure what we would be coming back to.  We watched the storm batter our campus until 2 PM on the 10th, and our cameras went dead as the eye of the storm worked its way North on 41, literally coming right over the top of our church’s cross.

Monday arrived.  Many of us that had evacuated had no way to reach Naples as Irma continued through the state of Florida, impacting roadways and safe havens along the way.  A few of our staff were able to make it to the campus, and what they saw was horrific.  Nearly every tree was toppled over.  The power line leading into our campus was listing into the pond between the church and the cemetery next door.  Roof tiles were everywhere.  The North corner of the church roof was peeled back to the plywood, with the tiles having flown all over campus, damaging everything they hit.  Two of the massive Air Conditioning Units to the church were punctured.  Doors were bent and warped beyond use.  The roof of the Parish Activity Center was damaged, with water leaking into the Ballroom and storage rooms.  Water had also poured into the Claussen Center, soaking the Youth Room and Classrooms.  The only part of our campus that was not damaged extensively was the Life Center Construction Zone, which had been locked down securely by our Construction Manager, Gates.  St. John looked like a war zone, both inside and out.

Immediately we got to work.  Some of you may recall my message from October thanking all our Parish Family and others that came to our assistance.  My family even took it upon themselves to start the clean-up of the Memorial Garden (my daughter wanted to clean Miss Lee’s final resting place more than anything else, even her own home).  We quickly found the significance of the damage was understated.  Compounded with the loss of power for over two weeks, Hurricane Irma’s impact was disastrous.  The church roof’s damage was so significant, it required immediate and emergency repairs.  The Bell Tower was listing dangerously, its cross completely loose and ready to crash to the ground at any time.  The Ballroom was a total loss, with water seeping into the walls and warping the dance floor that only a month before had 400+ people dancing to a Bee Gee’s tribute band.  All told, Saint John the Evangelist has sustained over $4 million in damages. 

Every inch of this campus that was impacted.  Our restoration company, ServePro, spent 2 additional weeks after power was restored with 20 people working 7 days a week to clean and remove all the heavily damaged components of our buildings.  The tree company arrived and needed to remove just about every mature tree on our campus.  Irrigation and lighting was destroyed.

You might think something so massive would cripple our Parish’s ability to perform our Mission, but you would be wrong.  We began Daily Masses that very Thursday after Irma, with no power, one of the first churches to do so.  Emergency roof repairs began immediately.  And, most importantly, the Parish Family of St. John came together and began to help the community, becoming one of the largest North Naples support centers this side of 75.  The story of our phoenix rising from the ashes will be part of next week’s bulletin.

We will be dealing with the impact of Hurricane Irma for years to come, but this past 4 months and the upcoming year will be significant for our church and our Parish Family.  We have come so far already, but we have a long way to go.  Insurance will assist with many of these major projects, and many of them were already articulated in our Capital Campaign.  However, the cost and sheer scope of the campus repairs and renewals are significant.  We will need all of your help and stewardship in time, talent, and treasure, in order to accomplish it.  I thank those of you who have already heeded our call to support our repair efforts already, with over $400,000 raised to cover the insurance deductibles and additional efforts (for example the tree removal was over $30,000 and is not covered in any way by insurance).  If you have not given to our efforts, but you would like to contribute, please ensure your gift states “Hurricane Repairs” in the memo line or on your envelope.  Those gifts will go directly towards our future plans, which will be articulated in a few weeks here.

At the end of the day, we all have our lives and we have each other.  Everything else can be replaced.  God bless our Parish Family and Saint John the Evangelist!

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