NEW BERN, N.C. (BP) — As Hurricane Florence came ashore Friday (Sept. 14) in North Carolina, Southern Baptists began relief ministries and made initial assessments of flooded church buildings and homes.
The Category 1 hurricane has left at least four people dead. Florence could dump 40 inches of rain on some areas of North and South Carolina, according to media reports. As of Friday morning, 620,000 people in the Carolinas were without power and 26,000 were in more than 200 emergency shelters.
At least four Southern Baptist churches had their facilities flooded, with rain and storm surges expected to increase flooding over the weekend. Attempting boat rescues, manning unofficial shelters and preparing for a formal Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) campaign were among Baptists’ initial responses.
“A lot of people are on rooftops — that’s what I’ve been told,” New Bern, N.C., pastor Jim Pennington told Baptist Press en route to a flooded region. “I’m going to try to get in to them. I don’t think you can get to them by vehicle, so I’m going to try to get to them with a kayak.”
Pennington said later via text message he and another boater “moved several families and their household goods” out of harm’s way. CNN reported midmorning Friday that more than 200 residents had been rescued from New Bern’s rising waters, with 150 more waiting to be rescued.
Pennington’s pastorate, Temple Baptist Church in New Bern, will be used as a staging site for SBDR in the coming days.
Some Temple members 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.
More than 3,000 SBDR volunteers are on standby and ready to deploy if needed.
Send Relief, the North American Mission Board’s crisis response arm, has staged two semi-truck loads filled with supplies for SBDR teams from Baptist state conventions. The supplies include Shockwave mold remediation, rolled roofing and pallets of water among other supplies. One truck traveled to Lynchburg, Va., while the other traveled to a warehouse in North Carolina that will allow it to serve North and South Carolina.
These semis are in addition to 65 pastor packs that were sent to the state conventions in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Each pack includes a generator and chainsaw along with items needed to operate those tools safely and efficiently.
During major crisis responses, NAMB works closely with national and local partners, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state emergency management teams and other volunteer organizations like American Red Cross (ARC) and The Salvation Army to coordinate an effective response.
The Red Cross typically manages the shelters where survivors stay and asks SBDR to provide hot meals. As of Friday morning, SBDR stood ready to provide the kitchens and supplies necessary to prepare up to 175,000 meals a day for Florence survivors.
SBDR also has dozens of flood recovery teams — including chainsaw, mud-out and heavy equipment — as well as shower, laundry, communication and childcare units. Chaplain teams will provide emotional and spiritual support for survivors.
In Atlantic, N.C., pastor Adam Self of Atlantic Missionary Baptist Church helped lead an unofficial disaster relief shelter at the local elementary school as the storm made landfall. All official county shelters were moved outside local Carteret County due to evacuation orders, but Atlantic’s older, low-income residents weren’t able to leave and needed help, Self told BP.
“We’re trying to instill light and life in people,” Self said, by telling them “the storm could have been much, much worse. Physical things are just that; they’re physical things. We serve a mighty God, and we will see our way through this and be able to rebuild.”
David Phelps, director of missions for the Atlantic Baptist Association in Havelock, N.C., said preliminary reports indicated at least four cooperating churches had their facilities flooded, with more in danger of flooding as waters rose.
Damage would have been far worse, Phelps told BP, had Florence come ashore as a Category 4 hurricane, as some predicted. But God answered the prayer of His people, including a group of Atlantic Association pastors who gathered Sept. 10.
“The Weather Channel was saying there was nothing to weaken this storm,” Phelps said. “We were all praying the Lord would blow the roof off the hurricane…. There’s no reason this storm should have weakened like it did” apart from prayer.
In Wilmington, N.C., most initial damage was less severe than to the northeast in the Atlantic Association. But some church buildings and homes suffered minor damage, and some residents could be without power two to three weeks, said Roy Smith, network missionary for the Cape Fear Network of Baptist Churches in Wilmington.
“There’s a big need for prayer right now,” Smith told BP, “for the people, that they’ll depend on the Lord and for the lost people to turn to the Lord.
Cleanup “will take a long time,” Smith said. “We’re still doing the last cleanup of Hurricane Matthew, which was two years ago.”