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After Fay’s drenching, volunteers mobilize

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Moving at a snail’s pace while dumping heavy rain and pushing strong winds in an erratic pattern through Florida, Tropical Storm Fay — or “Fickle Fay” as it’s been called — finally headed out of state Aug. 24 after making a historic four landfalls.

Florida Baptists’ disaster relief teams are continuing to set up relief points in affected areas.

“The storm was deceptive,” said Fritz Wilson, director of the Florida Baptist disaster relief and recovery. “While it never developed into a hurricane, it did a lot of damage. The state has been fairly hard hit.”

Wilson reported numerous communities where homes and churches are flooded and trees are down. “Today we are getting a better picture of what we need to do,” he said Aug. 25.

Volunteer Leon Branch, who serves as Florida Baptists’ clean-up and recovery coordinator, said various areas will be assessed in the next few days. The work is continuous, Branch said, noting, “Thousands of homes have been flooded across the state.”

Working with area emergency management agencies, Florida Baptists’ response will be handled under a new strategy to divide Florida Baptists’ 5,500 trained volunteers into the same seven regions as those designated by the state’s Emergency Operations Center. Each region has leaders assigned to relate directly to the region’s emergency personnel. Other trained teams assess specific needs within that area.

“This strategy gives us the structure and clear line of communications we have needed, along with the delivery system and trained volunteers to make our response immediate and more effective,” Branch said.

At the first of the week, local teams were activated in Tallahassee at the request of the Leon County EOC to remove downed tress from about 50 homes, Wilson said. Celebration Baptist Church will serve as the region command center.

Local teams will continue to respond to needs in Brevard County, where flooding was particularly extensive, and at First Baptist Church of Cocoa Beach, where the educational space was flooded.

For three days during the past week, volunteers concentrated in helping residents in Barefoot Bay, a community along the Atlantic coast largely consisting of mobile housing for seniors. Further response will be provided throughout Brevard County, Wilson said. “We will be housing volunteers at a Brevard County church if needed,” he said, “and using local feeding volunteers to prepare meals for our folks.”

Branch said he expects the statewide response to move to additional Florida communities, including Deltona, Aster and Callahan, which received extensive storm damage.

Fay also caused numerous church service cancellations beginning Wed., Aug. 20, continuing through Sunday, Aug. 24.

In the Jacksonville area, as rainfall amounts in Nassau County climbed into double digits Aug. 22 and 23, members of Thomas Creek Baptist Church in Callahan gauged floodwaters by the number of steps the water covered at the church’s entrance. Church leaders had already cancelled Sunday services because of thigh-high water surrounding the buildings, and water eventually seeped into the church buildings, spilling about two inches into the fellowship hall, Sunday School rooms and sanctuary.

The storm system, which left behind record rainfalls of up to 30 inches on the central Atlantic coast, started in the Florida Keys Aug. 18 but left little damage there.

Fay caused power outages and falling trees and reportedly took the lives of 11 people in Florida and one in Georgia after claiming 14 lives in Haiti.

Florida’s Gov. Charlie Crist announced Aug. 21 that President George W. Bush had declared an emergency in Florida, opening up greater help and money from federal agencies in responding to Fay. On Aug. 22, Crist asked Bush for a major disaster declaration after it appeared nearly all 67 of Florida’s counties would be impacted in some way.

Dozens of churches throughout the state were on standby to serve as shelters amid Fay’s onslaught. Spruce Creek Baptist Church in Daytona Beach was among the churches that provided shelter.
Reported by Barbara Denman, director of communications for the Florida Baptist State Convention; Joni B. Hannigan and Carolyn Nichols of the Florida Baptist Witness newsjournal (www.floridabaptistwitness.com); and Lauren Urtel, a staff writer for the Florida convention.

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