As rainfall from Hurricane Florence continued to drench much of North Carolina, Southern Baptist response teams were already at work feeding residents, ramping up recovery efforts and planning to provide long-term aid.
The storm made landfall early Sept. 14 as a Category 1 hurricane near Wilmington, N.C., producing damaging winds and precipitation that is expected to total more than 40 inches.
Hundreds have been stranded by widespread flooding, while 17 people died as a result of Florence, according to news reports at press time.
Dozens of N.C. Baptist church buildings were inundated with water, in addition to the Baptist Children’s Homes (BCH) site in Kinston, called the Kennedy Home.
BCH evacuated four of its campuses, moving residents to the Mills Home campus in Thomasville. The Kennedy Home sustained $1.5 million in damage two years ago from flooding related to Hurricane Matthew.
Blake Ragsdale, BCH director of communications, told the Biblical Recorder Sept. 15 that if rains persist as projected and nearby waterways flood, “there’s no telling what kind of damage it could cause.”
Multiple churches have reported their steeples were toppled by strong winds. Five buildings at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Fort Caswell retreat center sustained structural damage from rain and wind gusts, according to a convention spokesperson. The convention reported a power outage at the Caraway Conference Center and Camp near Asheboro. No damage was reported at Truett Baptist Camp in Hayesville.
Baptists on Mission (also known as North Carolina Baptist Men; NCBM) had launched a feeding operation at Temple Baptist Church in New Bern as of Sept. 17, with more than five others expected to be operational within days. Planned sites included First Baptist Church in Wilmington and Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton, as well as sites in Kinston, Jacksonville and Hope Mills, according to NCBM.
Virginia’s General Baptist Association set up a feeding station at Second Baptist Church in Washington. Disaster relief teams from the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and Missouri Baptist Convention have also established operations in North Carolina. Leaders from the Kentucky Baptist Convention, Alabama State Board of Missions, Florida Baptist Convention, Baptist General Convention of Texas and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention have offered help, NCBM said. The South Carolina Baptist Convention and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia are evaluating damages in their respective states, and have pledged to join disaster relief efforts in North Carolina if possible.
“What we’re doing right now is getting the feeding units in place – that’s the immediate need,” said Richard Brunson, NCBM executive director.
“There will be plenty of room for teams from other states to help us with chain saw work, mud-outs and other work. We’re going to welcome all of those states – we need all of them eventually. I’ve told them, ‘Please come help us.’”
NCBM is working with Emergency Management, Red Cross and Salvation Army to strategically locate sites for large feeding kitchens to try to help as many people as possible, the organization said. NCBM plans to use the site at Temple Baptist as a hub for future upcoming recovery operations.
“Eventually, there will be construction work, but that’s determined by grants and funds that federal and state agencies make available,” Brunson told the Recorder. “As soon as we get the recovery part in gear, we want to make contact with churches that had damage to their facilities, so we ask churches to contact us or the Biblical Recorder so we can get them on our list.”
Jim Pennington, pastor of Temple Baptist, ventured out in the storm’s aftermath in a kayak to help stranded residents. He told Baptist Press that he and other boaters “moved several families and their household goods” out of harm’s way.
Some members of Temple Baptist lost their homes to floodwaters, Pennington said. Yet many decided not to evacuate. “We see it as an opportunity for our church to really shine bright in a dark hour,” he said.
Giving to the North Carolina Missions Offering is emphasized in September. Part of the budget for the offering goes toward disaster relief work along with other ministries of the NCBM and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
Give online at baptistsonmission.org; designate giving specifically toward Hurricane Florence. If your church or association has Hurricane Florence stories or photos to share, please contact [email protected].