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Seafarers' Centers Reopen at Florida's Ports

Now that Hurricane Irma has passed, Florida and the American South have begun to assess the damage and initiate cleanup and recovery operations. The Miami Herald reported Wednesday that PortMiami’s north channel – the city where Irma was predicted to hit hardest – was open as of Tuesday evening. On Monday morning, tanker trucks began streaming out of the reopened Port Everglades, carrying millions of gallons of fuel. Florida Power & Light hopes to have electricity restored to South Florida by the end of this weekend.

To be sure, there are places much, much worse off than South Florida. Barbuda was devastated. The Florida Keys fared better but are still struggling with a lack of utilities and other services. Even Jacksonville up north is still dealing with a massive storm surge; as reported by The Florida Times-Union, the severity of the surge resembled that of a Category 3 hurricane instead of the tropical storm that actually hit the city.

Yet in the midst of recovery efforts both daunting and more manageable, one group of dedicated workers and volunteers have bounced back with particular speed. Seafarers’ welfare providers, with whom NAMMA has kept in touch as they prepared for and have begun recovering from the hurricane, have put a remarkable amount of effort into ensuring mariners have access to their services as soon as possible. Despite its invisibility to most people in the US, shipping is a vital component of the post-hurricane recovery process; whether carrying consumer goods, natural resources, or cruise passengers, getting shipping back online as soon as possible is a crucial task to avoiding major economic disruption in the wake of a storm like Irma. And when those ships come in, the staff and volunteers of seamen’s centers want to make sure sailors have somewhere to go, a computer to Skype home on, or a place to play pool or basketball.

Tim Huppert, Executive Director of Anchor House Mission in Port Manatee near Tampa, gratefully reported no major damage to his home. He hadn’t been able to get to the seafarers’ center when we spoke but speculated that “no news is good news” – had hadn’t yet heard of any damage. On the other side of the state, Mark Wodka in Port Canaveral reported his center was up and running on Wednesday, welcoming seafarers from two ships that day and expecting three the next. The biggest disruption, he said, was with staffing, as some of the center’s volunteers are dealing with damage to their homes and other personal matters. A boil water advisory is limiting some of the services the center can provide, but it’s otherwise functional. “It is what it is,” Wodka said, and he’s grateful the center is able to welcome seafarers this soon after Irma.

Doreen Badeaux, Secretary General of Apostleship of the Sea-USA, compiled updates on numerous centers around the Florida coast. None of her members have suffered catastrophic losses, with most damage confined to moderate flooding, scattered debris, and a lack of electricity. Captain George McShea, president of AoS-USA, said that despite the destruction and hardship inflicted by Irma, “it was inspiring to see people of all faiths, ethnicities, races and rich and poor pulling together under extreme conditions to help each other stay safe.”

Lesley Warrick, who discussed preparations at Seafarers’ House at Port Everglades before Irma hit, said the seafarers’ center is open and operating again. WiFi is back up for seafarers to use, even though the administrative department does not have its own communications platforms up and running yet. Broader issues affecting the entire area, like downed trees and power lines, recovery in staff and volunteer homes, and boil water advisories have made operation difficult. Yet Lesley said “staff for the center have been wonderfully dedicated about coming in as soon as practical and possible to ensure that the center is available to visiting mariners and to port workers.” She’s committed to her people at Seafarers’ House: “I’m proud of this team. ” NAMMA shares that sentiment: while we take pride in what our members do day in and day out in the best of conditions, we're even more proud of the incredible dedication to seafarers welfare that staff and volunteers have displayed over the past few weeks in storm-ravaged ports. Shipping’s human element is in good hands.

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