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As floods threaten Louisiana, volunteers prepare for worst

VIDALIA, La. (BP)–Crews of able-bodied Southern Baptist volunteers have been transporting the prized possessions of the elderly and infirm in Vidalia, La., across the Mississippi River to storage in Natchez, Miss.

Just in case.

“I see no problems with our levee system functioning as it’s supposed to,” Reynold Minsky, president of the Fifth District Levee Board, has stated. “We’re going to have a three-foot clearance,” Minsky, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Lake Providence, La., projected, referring to floodwater levels at the district’s 257 miles of levees that haven’t been seen since the 1930s — or maybe ever.

Rumors of impending devastation have been swirling during the first half of May as river waters were coursing down from where the “Mighty Mississipp” gains strength from the Ohio River. Minsky as well as Corps of Engineer officials and city/state leaders said the dangers of rumors that fuel panic were worse than the flooding that could come when waters pass Lake Providence in northeast Louisiana near the Arkansas and Mississippi borders and continue flowing 100 miles south to Vidalia and beyond.

“We’re stressing to our people not to panic, but just to be prepared,” said Bill McCullin, pastor of First Baptist Church of Vidalia. “Yes this is a serious situation but leaders are doing everything they can do.

“This [possibility of flooding] has unified a community that needed to be unified,” McCullin continued. “People are thinking about each other. Even though we’re at the early stages of this, we can still see God at work.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, in a May 4 visit to the area, said, “We know we’re facing historic levels of water coming through Louisiana, but we’re determined to do everything we can to protect people’s lives, property and livelihoods.”

In Vidalia, the levee has never been tested beyond 58 feet, said McCullin of First Baptist Vidalia. “Beyond 60 feet they really do not know. [The Army Corps of Engineers] has confidence in its ability to hold what’s coming, but their uncertainty is that they don’t know for sure.”

City leaders encouraged Vidalia residents to move treasured possessions to Natchez, which is on a high bluff, the pastor said. “They’re not predicting they are going to have a problem,” McCullin added. “I’m trusting in what the Corps of Engineers reported.”

A town meeting was held Wednesday evening, May 4, to quell rumors and give solid information, but the room could only hold 50 people, so McCullin invited the mayor to First Baptist the next evening for a repeat session. About 300 people participated in the second gathering.

Especially worrisome for Vidalia is its $75 million Riverfront Center, situated between the river and the levee. The Riverfront Center includes a medical center with state-of-the-art equipment, a hotel, convention center and welcome center, plus two water wells. Everyone agrees the riverfront area will flood. The Corps of Engineers, National Guardsmen, city workers and volunteers are surrounding each of the four buildings with “Hesco baskets” — 4-by-8-foot canvas containers filled with sand. Pumps would be placed inside the Hesco walls to remove any seepage.

In a worst-case scenario, First Baptist’s offices would move to First Baptist Church in Natchez.

The Mississippi River flooding won’t stop until it gets to the Gulf of Mexico.

At this point, prayer is what’s needed most of all, McCullin said — prayer that God would calm the hearts of Christians and that they would use the opportunity to bring others to faith and trust in Jesus.

“Once it hits the crest, it will take about a month to six weeks for [floodwaters] to get down to the 48-foot flood stage. Will the levee system hold that much water for that much time? … I would rather prepare for the worst and get the best,” McCullin said. “We’re stressing to our people not to panic, but just to be prepared. It’s just better to be safe.”
Karen Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, online at www.baptistmessage.com.