NEW ORLEANS (BP) — "We are as ready as we can be at this time," Gibbie McMillan, disaster relief director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said as slow-moving Hurricane Isaac plodded toward southeast Louisiana.
Projections call for Isaac to make landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, seven years to the day Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, killing more than 1,800 people.
Unlike Katrina, which surged to a Category 5 storm at one point, Isaac is expected to be a "Cat 1" storm with 85 mph winds at most. However, it may dump 10-20 inches of rain in some areas, and a 6- to 12-foot storm surge is possible for the New Orleans area. Serious flooding and widespread power outages from downed power lines are expected along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.
McMillan said the computer models he's seen predict Isaac moving up the Mississippi River — where water levels have been down due to summer drought — to Baton Rouge on Wednesday and on to Natchez, Miss., by Thursday morning.
Potential Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) sites for feeding hurricane victims include Northshore Church in Slidell; First Baptist Church in Covington, La.; and Woodland Park Church in Hammond. On standby are four Louisiana feeding units, two Arkansas feeding units to cover New Orleans, two Oklahoma feeding units for Baton Rouge and two Texas (SBTC) units for deployment wherever needed. Also on standby are chainsaw, laundry and shower units from Louisiana and other state conventions. North Carolina Baptist Men's Disaster Relief Ministry was among those teams that remained on standby Tuesday evening.
Ready to roll to Camp Living Waters, a Baptist camp near Hammond, La., is a North American Mission Board tractor-trailer packed with plastic roof sheeting for use in repairing hurricane-damaged homes. McMillan said the camp will serve as the main staging site for Louisiana DR operations. A second NAMB 18-wheeler will go to Mississippi. Also ready to go to Louisiana is NAMB's new command center, which will serve as McMillan's headquarters during the SBDR response effort.
"We're just in a holding pattern, waiting to see where the damage eventually is," McMillan said. "There's much concern over the amount of rainfall, which could be as much as two feet in 24 hours in southeast Louisiana." McMillan also echoed state officials' concern that the northeast side of Isaac could push rainwater over into Lake Ponchartrain — causing flooding in the New Orleans area — and in Lake Maurespas near Hammond and in Lake Borgne near Slidell.
Although Mississippi will not catch the brunt of Hurricane Isaac, Jim Didlake, director of men's ministry and disaster relief for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, expects the state to receive severe rainfall and flooding.
Mississippi Gulf Coast staging and feeding sites are planned on the campuses of First Baptist churches in Long Beach, Gulfport and Pascagoula. "We also have some Baptist churches that have already opened shelters in those areas," Didlake said.
Supporting Didlake's DR team will be chainsaw, mud-out, shower and laundry units from Kentucky, North Carolina and Texas (BGCT). Mississippi DR alone has 65 chainsaw teams on alert as well as a number of mud-out teams.
"We just ask Southern Baptists to keep our folks in their prayers as we respond," Didlake said.
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC's 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
SBDR 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 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: Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)