NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Southern Baptists are already headed to the Gulf Coast region as remnants of Hurricane Isaac continually disrupt the lives of an increasing number of residents.
By the weekend, a total of 36–40 Baptist relief units will have been deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi, said Bruce Poss, a disaster recovery coordinator at North American Mission Board (NAMB) offices in Alpharetta, Ga.
“Southern Baptists have responded as they have in the past with a lot of enthusiasm, in numbers to the disaster,” Poss said. “When people start hurting, [Southern Baptist Disaster Relief] shows up.”
Two feeding units from the Oklahoma State Convention already have left for Louisiana and a group of Texas Baptist Men left this morning (Aug. 31) to set up a feeding unit. Additionally, feeding units from the Arkansas Baptist State Convention are headed to First Baptist Church in Kenner and Gentilly Baptist Church in New Orleans, disaster recovery officials said. Chainsaw units also are being deployed. North Carolina Baptist Men’s Disaster Relief Ministry remains on standby for now.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (head of table in blue shirt) leads the Louisiana Unified Coordination meeting in response to Hurricane Isaac.
Two 60,000-pound Freightliner rigs with roofing supplies set out for the Gulf Coast region Wednesday (Aug. 29), in coordination with the Gulf Coast Baptist Association in Mississippi and other Southern Baptists in Louisiana. The trucks are filled with 20 pallets containing 320 rolls of plastic roof sheeting, wooden strips and nails volunteers will use to repair storm-damaged homes.
New evacuations are adding to the number of people in need. Today, officials in Louisiana and Mississippi ordered an evacuation of areas along the Tangipahoa River. Emergency crews announced plans to intentionally breach Percy Quin dam to alleviate pressure and avoid flooding in Kentwood, La. and Pike County, Miss., as the dam, weakened from heavy rains, was considered in imminent danger of failing.
Louisiana and Mississippi were hardest hit when Isaac came ashore Tuesday as a Category 1 hurricane, bringing rain, strong winds and flood waters that forced evacuations and rescues. Power companies are working to restore electricity to 700,000 customers in the region, and hundreds displaced by floodwaters in several communities in the Louisiana parishes of Plaquemines, Jefferson and St. John.
At least 7,000 were in emergency shelters and the number was only expected to increase, officials said.
Two deaths have been reported, one in each state, according to news reports.
Strong winds caused scattered damage in New Orleans.
At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS), a dozen large trees blew down, two of them on homes occupied by professors. A student apartment building sustained significant roof damage, as did a few Southern Baptist churches and the New Orleans Baptist Association (NOBA) building, said Billy Puckett, NOBA disaster relief coordinator. NOBTS is closed through Labor Day.
Recovery crews will have difficulty reaching certain areas of the city, said John Hebert, missions director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention. “All the highways from the north, the east and the west are closed because of high water,” Hebert said, including Interstate 55, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and both directions of Interstate 10.
But Puckett said New Orleans is recovering.
“The spirits of the people are really up…,” Puckett said. “The mayor was encouraging businesses to open today.”
Isaac had weakened to a tropical storm, but continued to bring heavy rains and tornado warnings as it moved slowly inland. The storm has dumped 10 to 15 inches of rain in communities along its path.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to the disaster relief operations can contact their state conventions or contribute to NAMB’s disaster relief fund via www.namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Diana Chandler, with reporting by Karen Willoughby, managing editor of the Baptist Message newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)