ALPHARETTA, Ga. – With Tropical Storm Isaac continuing to churn toward landfall as a potential hurricane on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning – somewhere along the Louisiana and Mississippi Coasts – Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leaders already are planning where major storm responses will be deployed.
Isaac – potentially a Category 2 hurricane – likely will strike seven years from the very day, Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, forever altering life in New Orleans and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Gulf Coast hasn’t experienced a hurricane since the 2008 trio of Dolly, Gustav and Ike.
“We’re still watching the tracks coming out of the weather centers and other computer models,” said Mickey Caison, disaster relief team leader for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in Alpharetta, Ga.
“We’re looking at a Louisiana strike now, although we still think Mississippi will be affected,” Caison said. “The farther west it goes, depending on how it turns when it hits land, we could be facing a major response in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi in the next few days.”
Preliminary plans call for mobilizing two of NAMB’s three 18-wheel tractor trailers – one to Hattiesburg, Miss., and the other to Covington, La., or even farther west depending on Isaac’s eventual landfall. NAMB DR staffers were busy loading the trailers today with plastic roof sheeting for use in repairing homes of hurricane victims.
Photo by John Swain
North American Mission Board disaster relief staffers Beth Bootz, left, and Cathy Miller load a “mud-out” trailer with special equipment needed by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief mud-out teams responding to Tropical Storm Isaac, after it becomes a full-fledged hurricane Tuesday night or Wednesday. Isaac is predicted to make landfall along the Louisiana/Mississippi Gulf Coast area, perhaps as far west as Texas.
If needed, NAMB is prepared to deploy a command post trailer from Alpharetta to the Gulf Coast, and is sending a team to retrieve its second command center in Oklahoma, where it has been used for the past few weeks in responding to the recent wildfires in the Sooner State.
State conventions in Louisiana and other affected states will be deploying their own volunteers and assets, including mud-out trailers, shower and laundry units and feeding kitchens. Working with the Red Cross and Salvation Army, some SBDR feeding units can prepare and deliver thousands of hot meals a day during a disaster.
When asked to compare the potential of Isaac with Katrina, which reached Category 3 status and claimed more than 1,800 lives and $80 billion in damage, Caison said at this point, there’s no comparison.
“It’s not the same strength of storm. Isaac is a much weaker storm and won’t have the same level of storm surge,” he said.
“But it’s possible that Isaac will take more of the 2008 Gustav/Ike track instead of the Katrina track,” said Caison, meaning that Texas and southwest Louisiana will suffer the brunt of the hurricane and resulting flooding.
Caison believes Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is much better equipped for Isaac than for Katrina.
“We’re much better off than we were seven years ago,” Caison said. “I think we’re much better prepared. We have seven more years of experience, planning and development as well as better equipment and more trained volunteers. Southern Baptists and the nation in general are better prepared for a Gulf Coast hurricane response today.”
Last Friday, Aug. 24, was the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, which caused more than $25 billion in damage and killed 26 people in South Florida. Hurricane season does not end until Nov. 30.
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, credentialed 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.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)