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Disaster relief units to evacuate Fla. as Hurricane Ivan looms

ATLANTA (BP)–Facing prospects of a third major hurricane strike in Florida in a month, more than 100 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units are preparing to evacuate the state — again. And, more than 25 Southern Baptist units en route to the beleaguered state have been either re-routed or stopped temporarily or have returned home.

Hurricane Ivan, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean in 10 years, is projected to reach the Gulf, and possibly Florida, Monday or Tuesday. The category 5 storm has killed 18 people, damaged nine out of 10 buildings in Grenada and caused emergency officials to order the total evacuation of the Florida Keys.

Hurricane Charley struck southwest Florida Aug. 13, causing an estimated $7 billion in damage and killing 27 people. Frances hit Florida’s eastern coast last Sunday (Sept. 5) leaving $2 to $4 billion in damage and 15 dead. If Ivan follows suit, it would be the first time in 40 years that three hurricanes have hit Florida in one year.

Since mid-August more than 4,000 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have given 200,000 hours of service preparing more than 1 million hot meals and completing 4,000 tree removal and clean-up projects. Coming from 25 state Baptist conventions, units evacuated Florida last week and waited for Frances to move through. They have been re-deploying the last two days but now face evacuation again.

“Some of the [cooking] units will leave after lunch Friday, and the remaining will leave after lunch on Saturday,” said Jim Burton, director of volunteer mobilization for the North American Mission Board which coordinates Southern Baptists’ extensive disaster relief operations.

“We must evacuate ahead of the anticipated storm to avoid traffic jams and protect the equipment as well as our people in order that they will be available to re-deploy following the storm,” Burton explained. Some of the disaster relief units, most of which are owned by Southern Baptist churches, associations and state conventions and staffed by trained volunteers, will ride out the storm in nearby states such as Georgia and Alabama, while planning to go back into Florida the first of next week.

Some of the disaster units are being re-directed to Georgia, South Carolina and western North Carolina to deal with power outages, flooding and other damage from Frances.

“We’ve been stretched pretty far,” said Mickey Caisson, NAMB’s disaster operations manager. “We’re doing a juggling act as things change constantly. We need Southern Baptists to pray for those in the path of the new storm, those already affected, our thousands of volunteers, many of whom are tired having been in the field for as long as three weeks. And, pray for wisdom for those in leadership that we make the right decisions at the right time.”

Southern Baptists have responded to pleas for financial assistance, but more is needed, said Robert E. “Bob” Reccord, NAMB president. “Southern Baptists have so generously opened their hearts and their wallets for these disaster relief efforts,” he said. “NAMB has received $150,000 the last three weeks designated for disaster relief, and that’s in addition to $300,000 we sent to the Florida Baptist Convention that was given by thousands of Southern Baptist teenagers while participating in WorldChangers mission projects the past two summers.”

But even more resources will be needed as Southern Baptists minister in more states and prepare to move into Florida for the third time. Gifts to help cover the escalating costs of Southern Baptists’ unprecedented disaster relief response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort or to the North American Mission Board. Gifts to the Florida Baptist Convention and NAMB may be made online at www.flbaptist.org and www.NAMB.net, respectively.

A two-minute video about Southern Baptist efforts also is available for viewing and download on the NAMB website. Shot this week in central Florida, the video is appropriate for SBC churches to show during Sunday worship services to familiarize members with the ministry and to encourage them to pray for the efforts.

Praise for the denomination’s disaster relief ministry has come from across the country, including religion and ethics columnist Mike McManus. In his newspaper column this week, McManus pointed out that few of the thousands of Florida hurricane victims served hot meals last week realized “they were cooked, not by the Red Cross which delivered them, but by 1,800 Southern Baptist volunteers.”

“Of course, many other denominations and groups were serving hurricane victims…. But none deliver so much help to so many as Southern Baptists,” McManus wrote. “Truly, these Southern Baptists are modern Good Samaritans. They acted on Jesus’ words, ‘I was hungry, and you fed me.’”
Disaster relief photos are available at www.NAMB.net/dr/drphotos.

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  • Martin King