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Photo essay: Churches walk alongside Hurricane Ian survivors (UM News)

Ian brought 150-mph winds to Florida on Sept. 28, and there have so far been more than 110 storm-related deaths in Florida alone, as well as fatalities in Cuba, North Carolina and Virginia. The storm also knocked out power to 2.6 million homes and businesses, with long-term recovery estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. It is the deadliest storm to hit Florida in almost 90 years.

Florida Conference Bishop Kenneth H. Carter Jr. spent several days following the storm visiting pastors in areas that were hardest hit.

“We were just there to listen and pray, to try to be a visible sign of the connection,” he said. “It helps us to visually see how people are doing. Everyone we met was very exhausted, as are we.”

The Rev. Debbie Allen, superintendent of the South West District, which includes Fort Myers, said that of the 75 churches and missions in the district, at least two-thirds suffered some kind of damage.

“I think the community here got hit harder in a lot of ways but the churches seem to have been more fortunate in terms of damage, so you see them already out there trying to engage and work with their communities to offer help and hope,” Allen said. “It’s what we do. We’re United Methodists; we take our faith and put it into action.”

Pastors have been checking on and comforting congregation members, even as some of them deal with their own losses from the storm.