ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Labor Day was no picnic or holiday for
dozens of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers and leaders
involved in responses to flooding along the East Coast and in North Dakota and
to raging wildfires across Texas.
And these SBDR responses to floods and fires were afoot even before Tropical
Storm Lee dumped up to a foot of rain along the Gulf Coast areas of Louisiana
and Mississippi and then moved northeast where it spawned tornadoes in Alabama
and Georgia – damaging dozens of homes and causing flash floods in the Atlanta
metro area. At least two people died and 16,000 customers are without power as
a result of Lee, according to the Associated Press.
In the wake of Hurricane Irene, Mike Flannery, state disaster relief director
for the New York Baptist Convention and a director of missions in Buffalo,
reported recovery work will be a crucial need in upper-state New York and north
New Jersey, where water levels are receding but are not yet low enough to
insert mud-out units.
“We are desperate for mud-out units,” said Flannery, who cited a minimum need
for six mud-out teams from other state Baptist conventions.
Flannery also is having to run an educational initiative to train inexperienced
New York flood victims who don’t know they must gut their homes down to the
framing and do mold and mildew removal before re-occupying their houses.
Flannery is coordinating three feeding operations – two in Washingtonville,
N.Y., run by New York and Mississippi Baptists, and a second at Trinity Baptist
Church (SBC) in Schenectady, run by 40 feeding volunteers from Kentucky. The
Schenectady operation – currently preparing 6,500 daily meals – has the
capacity to churn out 15,000 meals a day.
“Please tell Southern Baptists to keep us in prayer,” Flannery said. “In times
of crisis, people point their eyes and ears to the Lord.” Flannery said the New
York flooding is the worst, most pervasive disaster in his five years in
disaster relief in the state.
SBDR volunteers from 25 of the 42 state conventions are assisting in many other
disaster relief responses in the 11 states pounded by Hurricane Irene,
including feeding units in North Carolina and Virginia.
In North Carolina – where Irene struck its eastern coast and 42 counties have
been declared disaster areas – SBDR has fielded more than 1,200 job requests
for mud-out and chainsaw work and completed about 600, reported Gaylon Moss,
state DR director for the Baptist Convention of North Carolina.
“In North Carolina, four have accepted Jesus as Savior, more than 1,200
volunteer days have been recorded and about 88,000 hot meals have been
prepared,” Moss said. SBDR units from seven state conventions have responded at
13 separate sites across North Carolina.
Mark Madison of the Baptist Convention of New England said the needs are
widespread in that region.
“We’re focusing on four locations in southern Vermont and in Montpelier. We
have 100 jobs assessed and ready to work. We really need 12 more mud-out teams
as well as chaplain/assessment teams to make an impact,” Madison said.
In all, after Hurricane Irene, 375 chainsaw and mud-out jobs have been
completed; 13 people have made decisions for Christ through 725 Gospel
presentations and ministry/chaplain contacts; and nearly 2,800 showers and
laundry loads have been provided. To date, SBDR units have prepared nearly
268,000 meals for Irene’s victims, volunteers and responders.
Bruce Poss, disaster relief coordinator for the North American Mission Board,
supports Madison, Flannery and others in their desperate pleas for mud-out
teams from other parts of the country.
“There’s a lot of needs and we are spread very thin,” Poss said. “We have
opportunities and needs for more volunteers in New York, New Jersey, Vermont,
North Carolina and Texas. We appreciate the many states that have sent teams
but the needs are still there.”
Poss said mud-out and feeding continues in Minot, N.D., where 66 salvations
have been documented and 123,000 meals delivered over the last eight weeks.
“We still need to show a strong presence in Minot, although a lot of that will
start closing down in mid-September and all of it will be shut down by the end
of the month.”
Not to be overshadowed by Hurricane Irene is an impending major disaster relief
response by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Texas Baptist Men
in drought-plagued Texas, where 60 wildfires across 100,000 acres throughout
the state have destroyed 1,000 Texas homes.
“There are fires all over Texas – around Houston, Austin, Corsicana, Mineral
Wells and other locations,” said Jim Richardson, SBTC disaster relief director
in Grapevine, Texas. “We’ve served some 5,000 meals to firefighters at Palo
Pinto near Mineral Wells and are waiting on word on where to go next.”
At least 5,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes in Bastrop County
near Austin, and 400 are in emergency shelters. About 500 homes were lost in
Bastrop County alone, he said.
After feeding operations, Richardson said “ash-out” recovery operations will
start in areas where homes have burned down, helping residents find any last
belongings and cleaning off slabs where nothing else is left.
Dick Talley, executive director for TBM’s disaster relief team in Dallas, said
50 of TBM’s Tarrant County feeding volunteers are running a 24-hour-a-day
feeding effort for firefighters in Bastrop and providing shower units at
Bastrop High School.
“These fires have been going all year long because of the bad drought in Texas,”
Talley said. “And we didn’t get a single drop of rain from last weekend’s
tropical storm (Lee).”
Despite the wildfires in the Lone Star State, Talley said TBM is sending two
more assessment teams to Vermont, teams to North Carolina and an incident
commander to Vermont.
“Just because we have these fires in Texas, that doesn’t stop us from serving
all over the country,” Talley said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.)
’ of mud-out help