Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Slammed by a Hurricane: Steve Wood’s Story & Plea

by Steve Ray on August 24, 2004

Dear Friend,

The eye of Hurricane Charley passed directly over the Family Life Center, my home, and the homes of our staff members. The damage is severe. The needs are great. The crisis is unparalleled.

The national weather service gave us no warning whatsoever. Our local weatherman gave us only a few minutes of warning – not enough time to do anything except to take cover as best we could.

Because of the devastating hurricane damage, I’m dealing with multiple crises every day from morning until night. It’ll be weeks – perhaps months – before things get back to normal. Please sit down right now and give this EMERGENCY APPEAL your prayerful attention.

Our greatest emergency needs

I’ll tell you the whole shocking story in a moment. But first let me tell you what we most desperately need:

1. Prayers. Please pray for the fastest possible recovery from Hurricane Charley.

2. Please send an emergency check or money order to our street address (Family Life Center, Dept. 0804 HCE, 22226 Westchester Blvd., Port Charlotte, FL 33952). Your gift will help me repair the devastating damage and get back on my feet. Unfortunately our ability to accept online donations is temporarily crippled because of hurricane damage. But our financial needs are enormous. We expect to be able to receive emergency donations within 48 hours, I hope, but for now we can only accept donations by mail or by FedEx.

Now let me tell you off the top of my head what happened. I tremble just to think about the unbelievable power of a Category Four hurricane. For a few days the National Hurricane Center had said Tampa was ground zero for Hurricane Charley. They said it would track up the Gulf of Mexico, which means we might have had Category One winds here. In southwest Florida Category One winds aren’t a big deal.

The hurricane hit Naples at about 75 miles per hour. When it got up to Ft. Myers it hit Category Two with that warm water in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Weather Service, even when the hurricane was at Ft. Myers, said it was still on course to hammer Tampa.

If it weren’t for our local weather stations we would have been hit without any warning whatsoever. That’s because the National Weather Service continued tracking it to Tampa. But the local weatherman said, “I’m not speaking for the National Weather Service, but I’ve distinctly seen a move here in the last 40 minutes to the right, which means the storm is now heading for Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte.” And I’m thinking, I know where that is.

Before the hurricane turned on us and got ugly, the kids were excited. My two boys were on their skateboards, trying to catch the wind with large garbage bags. The girls were filming the weather with a video camera. Everything seemed fun.

But in just 70 minutes the storm turned away from Tampa toward Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte and escalated from Category Two to Category Four. This is over a period of 70 minutes. It quickly turned into a calamity. When I heard the eye was at Fisherman’s Village in Punta Gorda, which is just across the river from Port Charlotte where my house and office are located, I knew we were in grave danger.

When the winds came to our house there was nowhere to go at that point. By the time we knew what was happening, the hurricane had switched course and doubled in strength. The winds whipped our house at about 140 miles per hour. I’m kind of shaking just telling you about this.

Haunting sound: hurricane rips tiles right off my roof

My daughter Anne said, “Dad – in our family room the sliding glass door is buckling.” I took one look at it because when I was in high school I had one of those blow out about five feet from me. This one blew. All I did was scream “GO!!!,” and the kids dove and I dove and it blew. I don’t know if you can imagine broken glass and 140 mile per hour winds coming in your family room. The glass traveled to two rooms. And then plants and everything were coming in our family room at 140 miles per hour.

I put the kids in the hallway where there are no windows and put mattresses over their heads. We knew we were in serious trouble. As the wind howled and moaned, the rosaries came out. I surveyed what was happening because if our roof went I was concerned that things would collapse on us. When the wind first hit us it tore 90% of the tiles right off of the roof. I could hear them ripping off. It was just a haunting sound with the big sections of tile being torn off. I kept looking to see if there was plywood because if there was no plywood it meant our house was going to go. And then it went from 140 miles per hour to deathly still. Relatively sunny.

Eye of storm passes over us: I was scared to death!

The eye passed right over us. I knew what it was, and I was scared to death. I was really scared to death. I could barely talk but I knew I had to give reports to the family so I kind of sucked it up and did it in a coach’s fashion. “You know, we’re halfway through. We made it halfway.” But the worst was still to come.

About four to five minutes later the wind clocked 180 miles per hour, slamming the other side of our house. The window blew out in the bedroom of the hallway where we were and I was afraid the door was going to go. But it held. And probably within an hour it was over.

Our patio cage collapsed. My chain link fence blew down. I had an old canoe next to my house filled with hundreds of pounds of water. And that canoe is nowhere to be seen. It’s gone. It’s just flat out gone. It probably flew to the next county.

Roof collapses, causing my kids to freak out

The garden shed blew away completely. We don’t even know where it is. Windows blown out. Glass everywhere. Plants in our house. And then, of course, you have wave upon wave of torrential rain. That’s the really sickening part because I have no shingles on my roof, and rain is pouring through all the ceilings throughout our house. Every bedroom leaked, some considerably.

By bedtime the ceiling in one of my kid’s bedrooms collapsed. That kind of freaked them out. They didn’t know what else was going to come down. We just put buckets everywhere, but the bottom line is we knew our house was sustaining tens of thousands of dollars in damage because water was just pouring in. No ridge cap, no shingles. Ninety percent of the shingles on one side of the house were gone. Thirty percent on the other side. So our house was completely vulnerable to the weather. The wind was just blowing the curtains everywhere. It buckled the doors.

I waited for the storm to pass and began to assess the damage. But we couldn’t do anything with the water because it kept coming down and we had no roof. That’s pretty bad. We went over to my daughter Stephanie’s condo, and she had a hole in her roof and a window blown out. Her bedroom’s destroyed. There was nothing we could do and we left there.

Heartbreaking damage to the Family Life Center

Then my daughters Sarah and Stephanie and I got to the Family Life Center about 10:00 p.m. to check out the damage. I had to drive over and under live power lines to get there. Around trees. It was doomsday. A tree had landed on Stephanie’s car. There were trees in our driveway. Trees everywhere. A dumpster blown over.

We went inside our radio studio with a flashlight. The damage was heartbreaking. The Family Life Center had that special soundproofing foam on the ceiling for our radio studio. It was all hanging down. All of our equipment was soaking wet. The control boards and everything. I wanted to see the damage to the roof, but I couldn’t find it. I kept shining my light up at the ceiling, and it wouldn’t reflect off. I was trying to find what was wrong, and I finally realized there was no ceiling or roof. I was looking at the sky!

Part of my library of 30 years was in the Family Life Center. Stephanie and I got my library out of there, and Sarah got our master tapes and all of our master radio shows. This is at 11 or 12 at night with a candle. We had one of the candles from mass at our little chapel.

The worse part was at night. If you could call it a night’s sleep. Over 50% of my roof is leaking. And about 1:30 in the morning we hear part of the ceiling crashing in on my patio. Then about every hour or two another part of the ceiling crashes inside the house. That was pretty hard to take. Our walls are still filled with water. It’s an unmitigated catastrophe. It’s just like somebody threw a couple of sticks of dynamite in there and it exploded upward and fell down.

Every day is a crisis: Mosquitoes have free access to my home

The whole roof needs to be replaced. It needs to be shingled. That’s just to fix the roof. The inside of the house – well, I’ll talk about that later.

We have a five-bedroom house for our family. All our carpeting is gone. I’ve yanked all the carpeting out of the house. Had to yank a whole bunch of ceilings and insulation out. Bottom line: There are parts of our house where you can see the outside. I still don’t know what we’re going to do. Obviously, if we can see sky, the bugs outside can see us and can come inside our home. It’s August and there’s water everywhere. We can’t keep the bees, mosquitoes, and other bugs out of the house. We desperately need to fix our office and our home, but all the local work crews are tied up and overwhelmed with demands.

That was the first couple of days. I don’t even know what we’re going to do now. We didn’t have water, electricity. We didn’t have anything. We had to drive over power lines hanging down. My phone pole, I’m looking at right now, is sheared off about five feet off the ground. It’s just gone. The wires are laying back in a bunch of bushes. Power is very, very, very slowly being restored. We got water on the third day, I guess. I never thought I would be so grateful for a cold shower. You usually complain. Last night it was kind of funny. I was tired. I was dead tired. So I got in the shower and I kept waiting for the water to get warm and it wouldn’t get warm. So we have water, which is a blessing. We can’t drink it yet, but it’s O.K. for washing.

Our bookkeeper from the Family Life Center showed up the day after the hurricane. Bless her heart, because this takes navigating. There are no traffic lights in our city. Zero.

Employees of Family Life Center are in desperate need

In any case, our bookkeeper came, and I said, “We don’t have a computer or anything.” She said, “Yes, but the employees are going to need money.” I had to go up to Venice and get a cell phone. It’s my only contact. I went to Wal-Mart and got necessities and tools.

You know, the credit card company called. I don’t think they’ve called me since I got the card. And they told me I had hit my spending limit. I told them I’m in Charlotte County dealing with the crisis following Hurricane Charley. The credit card representative said he understood. And that was it. My spending level was unusually high.

Children grab a hammer, head up to the roof

I’m running from one crisis to another trying to figure things out. And we may need to relocate our family. I don’t even know if we’re going to be able to stay in our home. I have a friend who may come down this weekend and kind of assess what the deal is here. It could take a few months to get this settled. And then what do you do?

I’ll tell you, though, one thing that has been great. Usually the kids sit around saying things like, “let’s go to the mall” or “let’s go to the movies.” To see them grab a hammer and head up to the roof is character building stuff. It’s inspiring.

A lot of people are asking what our needs are. Obviously our needs are financial because we’re going to have to hire people to do repair work on our office and home. Unfortunately the insurance company deductibles are high. The insurance companies learned their lesson after Hurricane Andrew and tightened their policies to protect their assets from natural disasters.

Unparalleled crisis

In this unparalleled crisis, could I appeal to you to give a bigger gift than you’ve ever given before? I’m praying that you’ll stretch yourself and make a gift much larger than you’ve ever given – if possible. Please give what the Lord leads you to give. I guarantee I’ll put every dollar you donate to the best possible use. In dealing with this extraordinary emergency, the bills are piling up like you wouldn’t believe. I appeal for your help before I drown in a sea of red ink.

The Family Life Center will be back stronger than ever, but it’ll take a while. I’m determined to rebuild. I’m depending on your generous response to this crisis appeal to get back on our feet. I have no one to turn to but people like you. Please take out your checkbook right now and make out the most generous check you can. Then mail it today.

May God bless you and your loved ones, in His own best way. Yours in Christ,

Steve Wood

P.S. Remember, your gift is 100 percent tax deductible. Make out your check or money order to the Family Life Center and rush it to our street address: Family Life Center, Dept. 0804HCE, 22226 Westchester Blvd., Port Charlotte, FL 33952. Please join me in praying for the success of this crisis appeal. Please rush your emergency gift into the mail right away.

P.P.S. Please forward this e-mail to concerned friends and loved ones and pray that the Lord will inspire them to help out in this emergency. And please make out your check and send it today.


Joseph Pearce’s Star Magazine’s Article

by Steve Ray on August 24, 2004

The March/April issue of StAR (Saint Austin’s Review) centered on the issue of “Faith in Film“ and featured an article about the Passion by Mel Gibson. It also featured a wonderful article on the Footprints of God with pictures written by Ave Maria College’s professor Dr. Al Benthall.

Dr. Benthall is a delightful writer and has captured the “Spiritual Archaeologist“ as good or better than anyone to date. To read his well-written and fast-paced article, Click here for doc file, or here for pdf file (preferred). To visit the StAR Magazine website (owned by Joseph Pearce), click here.