The instant the blood pressure and voices of Florida’s TV weathermen began rising in shameless anticipation when Hurricane Irma made a tiny insignificant joggle north from its perch along the Cuban coast, Volunteer Ministers sprang into action in Clearwater, 333 miles away.
Water, ice, tools, generators, hygiene kits and food were ordered and procured from networks developed for disaster relief all across Florida and the United States. Four Church of Scientology buildings, including the stately Fort Harrison religious retreat, began their transformation to fully equipped shelters. In a gesture of selfless concern for the Church’s Downtown Clearwater neighbors, a team of VM handymen fitted, hammered and nailed 750 sheets of plywood to protect storefront windows and doors, securing 56 businesses along Cleveland Street, in the epicenter of town.
A few hours later, in the evening of Sunday, September 10—after walloping Naples and Fort Myers—a bigger-than-the-state-sized Irma passed through West Central Florida, inland, sucking water out of Tampa Bay as far as the eye could see and taking out Indian River docks straight across the state in Rockledge, 140 miles away. With meticulous organization, energy and fortitude, yellow shirts were suddenly everywhere along Irma’s trail.
In Clearwater, when it was safe, VMs removed the storefront plywood, and went house to house in the hardest-hit areas, asking “What do you need?” and then providing it—from repairing windows, pulling trees off houses and clearing detritus, to raking seaweed from Clearwater Beach, delivering ice and providing hot meals each day for North Greenwood residents who were without power for days. Weary VMs were joined by VMs from other Churches to provide swift, safe, organized, and in some cases, lifesaving services—here in the Church’s headquarters town, as in communities across the world.