Disaster Response: Latest News

Updated Jan. 18, 2020

UMCOR responds to natural or civil disasters of such magnitude that they overwhelm a community’s ability to recover on its own. Through UMCOR, United Methodists extend loving care to people within the United States. 

When disaster strikes, it is local churches that provide the first response to their communities. This basic understanding — that disaster response is local — forms the foundation for UMCOR’s U.S. disaster training and response.

When responding to a disaster in the United States, UMCOR provides training, financial assistance, expertise, community collaboration to churches and partners making them more resilient to disasters. 

How can we in New England help? 

Learn more about how to help by reading Top four worst, and best, ways to help after a disaster



In response to the severe and unrelenting wildfires in Australia, UMCOR - United Methodist Committee On Relief is working with partner organizations to assess current damage and analyze the best route for support.

If you would like to support relief and recovery efforts to address the needs of people who have been affected by this disaster (as well as other disasters worldwide), please give to the International Disaster Response Advance #982450

Goods being donated at this point are only clogging up relief centers, which are struggling with other relief concerns: rescuing and housing people and rescuing and treating animals. This story from the BBC explains: Australia fires: How the world has responded to the crisis


A home in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico, lies in ruins following a series of earthquakes. Hundreds of homes along the island’s southern coast were destroyed or severely damaged, leaving many people afraid to sleep indoors. Photo courtesy of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico

As UMCOR and United Methodist churches continue to respond to disasters around the world, we are saddened to see our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico devastated once again by the recent earthquakes. See a Jan 10, 2020 story from UM News 

Because there is an active, UMCOR-funded UMC recovery still progressing for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, infrastructure, materials, supplies and recovery personnel are already in place to assist survivors (See the letter received Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, from the Puerto Rico Recovery program director about the temporary halt of team visits due to more earthquakes). 

Maria Recovery staff are now reaching out in areas impacted (areas different from the Maria recovery areas).  UMCOR approved a solidarity grant and UMCOR consultants are on scene this week to assist with damage assessment and other support needs.

The best way to help is with your prayers and gifts to UMCOR Advance #901670.   UMCOR is providing updates on their Facebook page and we will continue to keep you informed as information is available.

To volunteer on Hurricane Maria recovery projects in Puerto Rico, contact Tymera Jackson (puertoricovols@umcor.org), but please be sure to follow the process that has been established with UMCOR by the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico (MCPR) and Bishop Hector Ortiz.  Volunteer teams should register through the UMCOR portal, which has posted updated guidelines for serving in the long-term recovery phase Volunteer Guidelines

Bahamas update

At this point the priority is repairing two church structures, one on Grand Bahama and one on Abaco, both severely damaged, which will serve as volunteer housing sites. Bahamians have been trained by UMCOR to respond until outside UMC volunteers can be hosted.
A formal volunteer response structure is being developed. Most likely, volunteer teams will not be deployed until early spring. The Puerto Rico Response volunteer mainland office is managed by the New York Conference Missions office and they are working closely with the Bahamas Methodist Habitat (BMH), working in collaboration with the Methodist Churches in the Bahamas.  All early volunteers will need to be ERT-certified, in good physical condition, and willing to accept very basic living conditions. Special volunteer skills may also be asked of team members. All potential team leaders must be experienced.

Until we receive a formal call for volunteers, please contact NEUMC Disaster Response & Mission Coordinator Barbara Burnside for more information. 

Midwest Flooding and Tornadoes

Please be in prayer for those in the Midwest (from the Rocky Mountains to the Ohio River Valley and some points east) who lived through the unprecedented number of tornadoes between May 17 and May 28, 2019, and subsequent flooding. Click the links below to find info from that conference or, in some cases, the email address for the coordinator in that conference who will respond to inquiries:

Oklahoma, Alabama-West Florida, Tennessee, Memphis, Great Plains, Dakotas, Pacific Northwest, Mississippi and Arkansas

For those who are more interested in rebuild, there are many opportunities in West Virginia, Texas and Florida (see below).

Hurricane Michael

October 10, 2018 changed the lives of thousands as well as the landscape of the beautiful states of Florida and Georgia.  “We will never forget the fear of watching a category five hurricane descend on our conference,” said Bishop David Graves of the Alabama-West Florida (AWF) Conference. “The residents of Panama City, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach, Marianna and many surrounding inland communities suffered significant property loss and trauma. Sadly, these communities continue to lose neighbors when the trauma becomes too much for some to handle.  Despite all of our denominational heartache, our disaster response program, with the help of UMCOR, exhibits what is best in our connection.” 

AWF Recovery provides housing in Panama Beach in a retreat house that accommodates 100 volunteers and this summer, some new centers opened in the affected areas to house volunteers.  Teams that wish to register should use the website:  www.hurricanemichaelrecovery.org.  Questions should be directed to the toll-free phone number (888) 942-4477 or emailed to hurricanemichaelrecovery@awfumc.org.

Upper New York flooding

Upper New York Conference has been dealing with widespread flooding from the 2019 Halloween storms in the Utica area.  They are asking for help from beyond the conference.  Contact Roger Cullen, UNY-VIM Co-Coordinator to schedule.  (585) 857-3140.

The number of affected homes changes frequently, as more and more people continue to ask for help.  According to New York State Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD):

  • An estimated 1,000 homes have been impacted by the storm.
  • An estimated 300 homes have major damage.
  • An estimated 100 homes were destroyed or condemned.

The need is great and more volunteers are needed. ERT and VIM workers can make a difference in the lives of many who need help. Currently, housing is provided for volunteers at Griffiss Air Force Base where there are cots and showers. (Consider bringing ear plugs for airport noise).

Hurricane Florence

South Carolina Conference Disaster Recovery needs volunteers to roof houses, repair siding, install sheetrock, repair floors and other tasks to return South Carolina families to safe situations from Hurricane Florence (Sept 14, 2018), as well as from October 2015 flooding and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Whether you can help for a couple of days or a week. Whether you have an experienced team or you want to come alone and work alongside new friends. Whether you are young or old, experienced or not, local or out-of-state.

Your time and talents are needed. To volunteer, please contact UMCSC Disaster Recovery at:

North Carolina Conference has appealed for Early Response Team (ERT) help from outside the Southeast and they will accept both regular ERT and ERT-led teams (at least one person including the leader must have ERT training). 

The North Carolina Conference requests that interested parties should first consult the Barbara Burnside, the New England Conference Disaster Response coordinator to pass on any updates about the response before teams contact disasterresponse@nccumc.org or call the NC Conference Disaster Call Center at (888) 440-9167.

ERT and VIM Teams needed for disaster response

Find teams seeking volunteers

During a disaster, things move slower than anyone would like; sometimes for good reasons, sometimes because of unforeseen complications or bureaucracies inexperienced in disaster response. It is not always easy to wait, but it takes time to put the right processes in place so that we can meet needs in ways that truly help.

So please pray for the affected areas below and that we will be shown how to be part of God’s provision, in God’s time.

WEST VIRGINIA: The end of June 2016 saw 8 to 10 inches of rain fall in a 12-hour period in West Virginia with a resulting flash flood that caused 23 deaths and destroyed 5,000 homes. Individual disaster assistance grants for affected homeowners, renters and businesses were approved from FEMA for residents of 12 counties. The United Methodist Church is still helping rebuild homes and lives.  Each team/individual is asked to fill out the attached form and send back to the Disaster Response Team. After your form is received you will be contacted and scheduled for a time and location of service.  Forms should be submitted to: Rev. Dave Stilgenbauer at revdaves@yahoo.com Questions? Email him or call (304) 210-6938.


The Florida Annual Conference reports that they have over 2.5 million FEMA registrations, and the Conference is focusing on underserved rural areas, and reports that a particularly vulnerable population is migrant workers.  All volunteers will be accepted, regardless of ERT training (untrained volunteers may be asked to handle donations management, take calls or do other office work). Individuals and teams are encouraged to register and should expect to be deployed in the southern part of the state.  John Chickering took a group of volunteers to the Keys in January 2018 when Florida was just starting to accept teams in that area.

TEXAS: The Texas Annual Conference (Houston and north Gulf Coast) asks that volunteers should be over age 18, Safe Sanctuaries certified, and at least one member of the team should be ERT trained.
RIO TEXAS: Whether you are interested in helping the continued response to Hurricane Harvey (2017) or to the summer flooding (2018-19) or the newest flooding in 2019, Rio Texas needs teams in southern Texas.  Check out their website for information on areas of response, types of teams needed or to volunteer.


LOUISIANA The Louisiana Conference is mostly finished with muck-outs from Hurricane Harvey and is still working with 17 long-term recovery groups on the 2016 flood damage, but with no federal disaster declaration, they are particularly dependent on volunteers and donations.

California Wildfires

Both California-Nevada (Cal-Nev) and California-Pacific (Cal-Pac) Conferences are in the long-term recovery phase for the Camp Fire, the most deadly in California’s history; UMCOR has been resourcing both conferences for these responses.  

Patrick Troy, long-term volunteer from NEAC headed out to Cal-Nev Sept. 5, 2019 to serve and he will stop in Wisconsin to help with flood recovery on his way to California.

Both conferences now have moved into the long-term recovery phases from the 2017  and 2018 wildfire and mud\slide disasters. 

Cal-Pac disaster responders are working with various disasters, including fire (e.g. Lilac Fire near San Diego), flooding, and volcanos in Hawaii.

CAL-NEV Northern California has experienced devastating fires every summer since 2015. The North Bay Fire Storm in October 2017 left thousands without homes; a large percentage had no insurance or were hugely underinsured. And then there was the last six months of 2018! 

2017 Firestorm – Mendocino County (Redwood Valley and Potter Valley)

  • Work is typically Monday - Friday with a Sunday evening arrival.
  • All levels of skill are welcome.
  • Smaller teams and individuals are welcome. We can combine groups.
  • This work is being done in partnership with Hope Crisis Response Network

Volunteer housing has been made available in Redwood Valley and is just $50 a week per person. There are bunk beds, a full kitchen, 2 full bathrooms and a living space - and Wi-Fi (a bit slow, but it's there). Bunk beds are available for up to 12, but there's some floor space available for air mattresses.

Proof of ONLINE BACKGROUND CHECK AND SAFE SANCTUARIES CLEARANCE or your conference equivalent is required.

2015 -2017 fires – Lake County (Middletown)

  • Teams large and small - and even individuals - are invited to participate.
  • Arrangements for your visit are made directly with our partner, Hope City 
  • Dorm housing sleeps up to 48 in real beds (some bunk).
  • Full commercial kitchen, large eating and gathering area, meals provided with lots and lots of snacks, and pretty good Wi-Fi.
  • Construction coordination and tools are provided by Hope City.

NOTE:  Although the Hope City website includes links to register for Mendocino and other locations, we ask that UMVIM teams register only for Lake County directly through the link. If you are wanting to go to Mendocino, please contact Danielle, our Volunteer Coordinator, listed below. Information on other locations will be sent out as soon as our Conference has support in place

In Cal-Nev, contact Volunteer Coordinator Danielle Rodrick Juszczak 707-621-2000 & copy Shari Sandoval for more information about the rebuild.  

In Cal-Pac contact Judy and Doug Lewis for more information about volunteering.


Read an update from NEJ UMVIM in the August 2019 Servant's Journey e-newsletter

UMCOR relief supplies 

Beginning Jan. 1, 2018 UMCOR depots began only accepting hygiene (health), school, and cleaning kits.  The kit components were changed in June 2018 (Please check new lists before assembling new kits).  Kits can be delivered to a conference drop-off location or to any UMCOR affiliate warehouse near you. Click the link to find information about UMCOR depot affiliate locations.

Disaster Relief/Volunteer Opportunities

Saipan needs your ERT and construction skills Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan (the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands) in October 2018. The people of Saipan are waiting to get out of tents or temporary shelters and into their homes. You can help by joining a two-week UMCOR specialized team during the summer and fall 2019

Teams are a blend volunteers from U.S. conferences with a focus on either construction professionals or construction-savvy members to rebuild trusses and tin roofs.

You will need to:

  • have a current passport good for up to six months beyond deployment dates;
  • the ability to climb and work on ladders; 
  • be in excellent health; 
  • be able to tolerate the extreme heat and humidity. 

Flights, accommodations and some expenses are covered through FEMA “invitational travel” for those who qualify through a volunteer application process and hold a current Early Response Team badge. 

To get a volunteer application and Yutu fact sheet, contact Kathy Bryson, Yutu Project Coordinator, Cal-Pac Conference, at pnwumcert@gmail.com

Volunteer opportunities

Find other volunteer opportunities

Contact Barbara Burnside at baburnside@neumc.org for other mission journeys requesting additional volunteers.