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Baptist relief units on alert as jetliner hits N.Y. borough

NEW YORK (BP)–Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units currently operating in New York have been placed on alert following the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 with 255 people on board in the Rockaway section of the borough of Queens about five miles from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The jetliner struck a residential neighborhood Nov. 12 after its 9:14 a.m. takeoff from Kennedy.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers currently are operating in three locations in the metropolitan New York area.

The largest relief effort encompasses approximately 50 volunteers from seven states working in teams to clean dust and other debris from apartments near the former site of the World Trade Center. Volunteers represented in the effort are from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Additionally, volunteers from Georgia currently are assisting with a Salvation Army mobile kitchen in Manhattan, while a childcare unit from Ohio is stationed at an American Red Cross assistance center in Jersey City, N.J.

A senior Bush administration official told CNN initial indications are that there was an explosion aboard the American Airlines jet, an Airbus A300, but that the source of the explosion is unknown. But the National Transportation Safety Board said the crash is being investigated as an accident. The NTSB said it was preparing a “go team” to travel to the scene, and an Airbus representative was also en route.

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said there were two crash sites — one where the plane landed and another where an engine landed. Both were about six blocks from a school building. The school was closed for the Veterans Day holiday.

The plane was scheduled to leave at 8:40 a.m., but takeoff was delayed until 9:14 a.m. It was en route from New York to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. American Airlines said the plane was carrying 246 passengers and nine crew members.

Rosena Pierre, a member of French Far Rockaway Baptist Church, told Baptist Press, “We are about 10 minutes from the crash site and it was terrible. Thank God we are safe. This was very close to us.”

Her husband, Ishmael, is pastor of the French-speaking Southern Baptist congregation of 200 members.

“As far as we know, all of our church members are accounted for,” she said.

Walter Montalvo, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Peniel in Far Rockaway, told Baptist Press no one from his church was injured in the jetliner crash.

“Everyone is okay,” Montalvo said. “Thank God.”

Montalvo is pastor of the 45-member Hispanic congregation in Queens.

An eyewitness told CNN, “I was in my kitchen … and I saw the plane hit the house behind my house. It was so low, I was ducking almost, then huge fireballs, and I jumped out of the … window of my house.

“I ran right across the street … it’s unbelievable,” she said, overcome by emotion. “It sounded like two planes. It was flying too low, and then it hit. It was like a bomb exploded.”

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  • Todd Starnes & James Dotson