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15 Baptist kitchen units begin post-Wilma operations in Fla.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–An estimated 500 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are now in the middle of Hurricane Wilma’s devastation in South Florida, while 7,000 SBC volunteers are still serving along the Gulf Coast.

Fifteen Southern Baptist kitchen units are up and running, most of them parked on the property of cooperating Baptist churches in the hurricane-affected areas. These include units at Bell Glade, Boca Raton, Clewiston, Ft. Lauderdale, Hallandale, Homestead, Key West, LaBelle, Miami, Naples, Sweetwater, Pompano Beach, Stuart and West Palm Beach.

Southern Baptists also are staffing the American Red Cross’ “Spirit of America” kitchen unit at Opa Locka Airport, according to Mickey Caison, manager of the North American Mission Board’s disaster operations center here.

SBC volunteers in South Florida hail from Alabama, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Kentucky, New York, Texas, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia and California.

“The Red Cross, The Salvation Army and Florida’s Division of Emergency Management are asking us to quickly gear up to generate 100 percent meal capacity from day one,” Caison said. Caison said shower and laundry units are also on the scene.

Ed Blackmon, an associate for the Florida Baptist Convention’s Baptist Men, said Broward County was particularly hard-hit by Wilma.

“Broward County’s infrastructure and power grid suffered massive damage,” Blackmon said. “We’re not talking about a matter of days to restore power, we’re talking about weeks.

“People from around the U.S. don’t realize this is Florida’s most heavily populated area -– with as many as 6 million citizens affected,” Blackmon said.

Caison said NAMB’s disaster operations center at Alpharetta, Ga., has been in operation 24 hours a day for more than 63 consecutive days, dating back to late August when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Since then, more than 9 million meals have been prepared by Southern Baptists for hurricane victims and workers.

Although much of the disaster center’s attention now is focused on Florida, “we’re still maintaining our operations in the Gulf States, including Texas,” Caison said.

With recovery and long-term rebuilding still in the early stages, Caison predicts that Southern Baptist volunteers will be needed for weeks to come in the Gulf States, especially with winter coming on.

Southern Baptists run the third-largest disaster relief operation in the country, behind the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

With the official hurricane season continuing until the end of November and dangerous new hurricanes like Wilma still possible, monetary contributions to Southern Baptist relief efforts are still welcomed.

Contributions may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort or to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Fund. Donations to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief may be made online, www.namb.net, or by calling 1-866-407-6262. Contributions also can be mailed to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, North American Mission Board, Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.

A web cast briefing about Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts is available at www.namb.net. Disaster relief information is posted regularly at www.NAMB.net/dr.

At least two Baptist churches reportedly were destroyed in Florida and 23 others damaged Oct. 24 as Hurricane Wilma cut a diagonal swath across the southern tip of the state, which has weathered eight hurricanes in 15 months.

The destruction at Westside Baptist Church in Boynton Beach was total, according to director of missions John Brackin of the Palm Lake Baptist Association. The sanctuary of Graham Baptist Church in Miami was destroyed. Both churches are on Florida’s east coast, where damage was worse than expected as Wilma exited the peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean.

Wayside Baptist Church in Miami, which was left with a huge gaping hole after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, was again pummeled when Wilma seriously damaged the sanctuary roof.

Two churches in the Florida Keys have reported destruction, said Sonny Pritchett, director of missions for the Florida Keys. First Baptist of Big Coppitt was flooded. Sugar Loaf on Summerland Key experienced steeple and water damage.

Preliminary reports from church officials and Florida Baptist Convention staff list the following churches as also having suffered extensive damage:

First Baptist in Belle Glade; Boca Glades Baptist in Boca Raton; First Baptist in Cooper City; East Naples Baptist; First Baptist in Fort Lauderdale; First Baptist in Hallandale; First Baptist in Lake Worth; McGregor Baptist in Fort Myers; First Baptist in Plantation; and Westside Baptist in Boynton Beach.
With reporting by Barbara Denman of the Florida Baptist Convention.

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  • Mickey Noah