When weather forecasters predicted Hurricane Hermine would bring a tidal surge of about three feet from the Gulf of Mexico’s churning waters, pastor Alan Ritter thought First Baptist Church in Homosassa would be safe from damage several miles inland.
Photo by Josh Gussler
Volunteer Brian Taylor from Damascus Baptist Church in Graceville, Fla., pulls moldy wallboard from a Crystal River residence flooded by Hurricane Hermine. Florida disaster relief is helping storm survivors on multiple fronts across the state.
But Ritter faced the worst with little time for preparation when late-breaking news of the storm suggested a seven-foot tidal surge would hit the community located on the Homosassa River.
Now First Baptist in Homosassa and at least three other Florida Baptist churches are cleaning up from damage sustained when the first hurricane to hit Florida in a decade made landfall on the state’s Big Bend coast in the early morning hours Sept. 2. The storm caused extensive damage across the state, knocking out power and flooding homes.
Delton Beall, Florida Baptist disaster relief director, reported that churches sustaining damage include Ozello Island Church in Crystal River, First Baptist Church of Horseshoe Beach and Blue Creek Baptist Church in Perry.
Dozens of Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers have been deployed to provide help and hope to storm survivors on multiple fronts across the state.
Immediately after the storm made landfall, Florida Gov. Rick Scott thanked Florida Baptists on Friday, Sept. 2, for serving alongside the Florida Division of Emergency Management to help with emergency preparedness.
Within 24 hours after the storm, a feeding unit was stationed at Canopy Roads Baptist Church in Tallahassee to help meet hunger needs across the region. Volunteers began preparing between 1,400 and 2,000 meals per day for the American Red Cross and others from the community who arrive at the church in need. The Florida volunteers also provided food for senior adults living in a local nursing home for several days.
Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, visited the feeding unit on Tuesday and called the volunteers “amazing servants of God.”
“Our Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers were serving meals by Saturday in Tallahassee,” Green said. “This immediate response demonstrates the love and compassion of Christ.”
After two days of assessors visiting the flooded communities along the Big Bend coast line from Keaton Beach to Homosassa, Florida disaster relief established a command center on Tuesday for cleanup and recovery response at First Baptist Church in Crystal River.
One of the biggest threats to homeowners after a flood is dangerous mold that starts growing in a home. Florida volunteers travel with “mud-out” trailers loaded with pressure washers, disinfectant, buckets, shovels and other related equipment. Mud, silt, damaged belongings and other debris must be removed along with any damp sheetrock. The process begins when floodwaters recede and the drying-out process has begun.
As many as 80 families with no insurance in the Crystal River area have contacted Florida Baptists for help.
Requests also have surfaced in other communities across the state that were hit by widespread winds and floods caused by Hermine. Local teams of trained Disaster Relief (DR) volunteers are providing cleanup and recovery in Tallahassee, Live Oak and Madison, and a mobile shower unit has been stationed in Crawfordville to help with needs in that community.
One Crystal River couple made professions of faith in Christ after the dedicated volunteers helped the couple and shared the gospel. Another accepted Christ after the Tallahassee crew shared their faith.
"Three new people have been added to the Kingdom of God today," Beall said. "It’s time to rejoice."
Beall noted that additional recovery sites may be established in coming days and another feeding site may be activated for other areas of the state as needs arise. He expects for the callout to extend for at least two weeks, although the Tallahassee feeding may end by Sept. 11.
This is the fourth callout for Florida Baptist DR volunteers during the past 12 months. Teams of Florida volunteers had been serving in Baton Rouge when Hermine hit. Some volunteers on their way to Louisiana stopped at the state line and others were called back home for deployment.
Florida Baptist disaster relief is underwritten by funds to the Maguire State Mission Offering, which purchases equipment and preparedness. But additional funds are needed to support massive call-outs of volunteers and equipment. To donate to the Florida Baptist DR relief effort send a check to the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207. Designate “Florida disaster relief.” To make a donation by credit card, call 800-226-8584, att. Mike Gilley, ext. 3047, or Flor Ramirez, ext. 3100.
Green commended Florida Baptists for their commitment to provide help and hope in time of disaster. “Thank you Florida Baptists for your prayers, service and giving that enables this important ministry.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.)