Florida needs America's help

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

and Steve Uhlfelder

Florida has been devastated by four major hurricanes, with immediate damage estimated in the billions. Millions of your fellow citizens have been severely affected with homes and communities devastated. Relief organizations' resources are stretched, and resilience is frayed.

To assist those in need, Gov. Jeb Bush has established the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund. Your contribution is greatly needed.

Here are the startling facts:

Insured losses alone from hurricanes Charley and Frances are estimated at $12.4 billion, with 44 of Florida's 67 counties eligible for federal assistance from those two hurricanes. Insured losses from Ivan, still being determined because many areas are difficult to reach, could total $10 billion, according to Florida's Department of Financial Services. Additionally, FEMA reports nearly 400,000 filings for assistance from the first two hurricanes as of Sept. 17, as Ivan's destruction was coming to light.

Florida's citrus industry has sustained an estimated $485 million in initial damage, which does not begin to approach the time costs of replacing trees in damaged groves over the next few years. New unemployment filings in the counties affected by Charley and Frances rose to nearly 30,000 as of Sept. 17. According to the Red Cross, 86,917 homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Charley, 34,258 by Frances.

The emotional toll on Floridians is immense as the very fabric of everyday life has been drastically torn apart. Thousands are living in temporary shelters or homes swathed in tarp. Entire schools, medical centers, businesses and houses of worship have been destroyed. In the Panhandle today, many Floridians are making their way to debris-ridden lots where homes once stood and lives once flourished. This crisis is bringing Floridians together -- west and south, east and north, rich and poor. Hurricanes are terrible equalizers.

You can help Floridians overcome this crisis by contributing to the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund.

Our goals are clear: to rebuild communities by providing funds for housing, small businesses and nonprofit assistance. Distribution of those funds is being based on the level of damage within local areas, with the first checks going out this week to the counties impacted by the first hurricane that hit Aug. 13.

Committees of local citizens within each county affected by these disasters are convening to determine needs unmet by the government and assistance groups. Examples of those needs include home repair/rebuilding, startup funds for small businesses, emergency cash assistance and migrant worker temporary assistance. Above all else, distribution of these funds -- the hard-earned money of compassionate citizens such as you -- will be governed by the understanding that 100 percent of it will be directed to the hurricane relief effort.

To date, Florida has received contributions from 37 states across our nation as well as abroad. Schoolchildren are donating allowance and chore money along with heartfelt notes of support. Religious and community groups are banding together to support Floridians and corporations are pledging millions. Every penny counts and every cent helps. You can help Florida rise and rebuild by donating to the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund.

Checks should be made payable to: Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, C/O Volunteer Florida Foundation, ATTN: Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, 401 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee, Fla. 32301.

To make credit card donations, call (800) FL-HELP-1, or go to www.FLAHurricaneFund.org.

Please open your hearts to Floridians in their time of need. Thank you, America.

Connie Mack, a former U.S. senator, is chair of the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund, and Steve Uhlfelder is CEO of the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund and a member of the board of governors of the Florida University System.

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