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Ala. DR: 5,900 volunteers from 10 states

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has mobilized nearly 5,900 trained volunteers from 10 state conventions since deadly tornadoes ripped across Alabama — killing more than 250 on April 27.

In addition to the large-scale tornado response in Alabama, state DR coordinators in Tennessee, Missouri, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois and Arkansas are bracing for the serious flooding expected along the swollen Mississippi River.

The floodwaters are expected to generate a heavy demand for SBDR feeding and mud-out units in the affected areas. The Kentucky state disaster relief team planned to deploy a 20,000-capacity feeding unit to Paducah on May 9.

In Memphis, the river is expected to crest at a near-record 14 feet above flood stage on Tuesday, May 10. The river is the highest it’s been at Memphis since 1937, when it crested at 48.7 feet — 14.7 feet above flood stage. That flood killed 500 people and covered 20 million acres of land, according to CNN.

In Alabama, Mel Johnson, disaster relief director for Alabama Baptists’ State Board of Missions, said Southern Baptist feeding units have prepared more than 162,000 meals and are still doing mass feeding in Tuscaloosa, Madison, Rainsville, Birmingham, Snead’s Crossroads and Double Springs.

“I just want to publicly praise these 10 state conventions and the North American Mission Board who have stepped up to the plate and helped us organize the incoming teams,” Johnson said May 9 at the SBDR incident command center in Montgomery, Ala.

Although chainsaw and clean-up/recovery teams from several states have chalked up about 750 jobs so far, Johnson said the numbers for completed chainsaw jobs traditionally come in slow as teams get deeper into the areas of significant destruction.

“Next week, I expect the number of completed chainsaw jobs to go up a lot,” Johnson said. He also said 22 of the initial 30 shower units deployed in Alabama are still operating.

Among the 5,900 volunteers in Alabama is a large and growing contingent of more than 200 Southern Baptist DR chaplains, including Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) chaplains, from Alabama as well as other state conventions.

“The CISM chaplains are highly skilled, specially trained chaplains who are deployed to go into the ‘ground zero’ situations,” Johnson said. “They’re equipped to deal with significant emotional trauma — trying to help people cope with high levels of stress brought on by grief over lost loved ones and loss of property.

“And these chaplains, who are fanned out across Alabama, are not just comforting the tornado victims, but also first-responders. Even the responders can’t move through these areas, see the devastation and not be affected.”

Johnson said the Alabama State Board of Missions staff already is meeting with local directors of missions, association staff and pastors to offer emotional and spiritual support. “We’re meeting with them to also advise them about what resources are available for their church members,” he said, adding that the state staff will be working with associations to hold additional grief-comforting sessions at churches across Alabama in the months ahead.

So far, Johnson and the state board of missions staff has identified 46 churches in 29 local Alabama associations adversely affected by the April 27 tornadoes. The churches’ damages vary from total to moderate destruction, he said.

“This is going to be a long-term area of ministry for the Alabama State Board of Missions,” Johnson said. “But supporting churches have already stepped up, drawing communities to local Baptist churches and people to Christ. Long-term, we’re going to help churches plan for the future and engage them to use this as an opportunity for outreach.”

Johnson also had a few tips for churches that want to spontaneously go into a tornado-ravaged area and offer assistance.

“I will never discourage neighbors who want to assist neighbors,” he said. “Spontaneous volunteerism is a blessing. But both supporting churches and churches needing assistance need to have a plan.

“Say a city is under curfew or parts of it are closed off, even to homeowners. Groups who come into a community and don’t have a plan can compound the problems and cause higher stress for local law enforcement and emergency personnel. Supporting churches should coordinate with local churches to make sure the needs are actually there.”

Johnson said Southern Baptist Disaster Relief personnel are credentialed, trained and coordinated — “so the local law enforcement and emergency people don’t have to worry about us.”

According to the latest statistics from NAMB’s disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., the SBDR response also has generated:

— 8,111 volunteer days

— more than 4,200 showers and laundry loads

— 280 chaplaincy contacts and 100 Gospel presentations

— 16 professions of faith

— a total of almost 2,500 ministry contacts

State conventions responding in the aftermath of the deadly Alabama tornadoes include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, the Southern Baptists of Texas and Texas Baptist Men.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. For information about donations to Alabama Baptists’ disaster relief efforts, go to http://www.alsbom.org/feature3. Other donations to disaster relief can be made to state conventions or through the North American Mission Board. To donate to NAMB’s disaster relief fund, go to www.namb.net and hit the “donate now” button. 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. Checks should be designated for “Southern Storms 2011.” Donations can also be sent via texting “NAMBDR” to the number “40579.” A one-time donation of $10 will be added to the caller’s mobile phone bill or deducted from any prepaid balance.

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  • Mickey Noah