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Fla. Baptists ready to respond to aftermath of Jeanne

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (BP)–Florida Baptist Disaster Relief officials were already making plans to respond to Hurricane Jeanne early Sept. 26 as more than a million Floridians were without power after the Category 3 storm blasted ashore with 120 mph winds and crashing waves — yanking trees out of the ground, tearing off rooftops and spreading miles of debris on already water-logged terrain.

It is the first time since 1886 when four hurricanes blasted through Texas in a single season that four hurricanes have hit a state successively. In Florida, Hurricane Jeanne followed Charley, Frances and Ivan. Jeanne, a 400-mile diameter storm, followed Frances’ path inland, stirring debris left from the other storms.

About 1.2 million homes and businesses were without power Sunday, including much of Palm Beach County. Even before Jeanne hit, some 80,000 people still had no electricity in the panhandle following Ivan, and officials feared many could be without power for three weeks or more.

Rainfall totals of 5 to 10 inches were expected in the storm’s path, and flooding could be a major concern because previous hurricanes had saturated the ground and filled canals, rivers and lakes. Two million people had been urged to evacuate, according to state officials who said more than 42,500 people, many with homes already damaged by Frances, stayed at shelters.

In Vero Beach at the Florida Baptist Retirement Center, Tommy McDaniel, the center’s administrator, told Florida Baptist Witness that at 11 a.m. Saturday, evacuation there was almost complete, with the staff readying to serve lunch to its residents.

Approximately 60 residents, including 24 in nursing and 15 in assisted living facilities, and an additional 30-40 staff are part of the evacuation, McDaniel estimated.

Asked how the staff was bearing up under the difficult circumstances, McDaniel said, “We’re doing well. It’s just hard to believe we’re doing this again.”

Sunday at 1:45 p.m., Eddie McClelland, president of Florida Baptist Financial Services, updated the status of the retirement center, which is managed by FBFS.

McClelland talked to McDaniel after he made an initial assessment of the campus shortly after curfew was lifted in Vero Beach at 1 p.m.

“The damage is worse than after Frances,” McClelland said of McDaniel’s survey. The retirement center was pounded three weeks ago by the Category 2 hurricane, experiencing roof damage in the cafeteria facility and two inches of flooding in the nursing building. The campus also lost a large number of trees.

After Jeanne, the nursing facility is “more flooded than after Frances,” McClelland said, and many of the shingles that replaced those blown away from Frances are now missing again. Many carports and screened enclosures at the villas that withstood Frances were “blown away” by Jeanne.

McClelland said that a water damage restoration company was working throughout Sunday to remove the flooding from the nursing facility and staffers hoped to be able to return residents to the retirement center the next day. “With the emergency generator and propane, we’re better able to serve the residents at the center than at the shelter,” McClelland said.

Yet even as Jeanne continued on its track through the state, Cecil Seagle, director of the missions division for the Florida Baptist Convention, headquartered in Jacksonville, told Florida Baptist Witness he was working with the state’s head of disaster relief Fritz Wilson and executive director-treasurer John Sullivan to make preliminary plans for an all-out response as soon as an assessment can be made.

The response will include 50-60 Florida Baptist Convention staffers and hundreds of other volunteers from throughout the United States who will be coordinated through Florida Baptist Disaster Relief and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, a ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board.

The response will stretch from the panhandle to Palm Beach, according to Seagle, who said the convention staff, after serving for more than six weeks, is standing strong.

“Our folks have been stretched beyond measure but have remained focused on Him and His goodness,” Seagle said.

And throughout Florida — where Charley tore apart homes and businesses, Frances flooded rivers, creeks and ponds, and Ivan drove sand, rain, houses and trees inland — the attitude remains hopeful and optimistic.

“The people of Florida are a resilient people,” Seagle said. “We’ve come to realize that Jesus Christ is sufficient in the toughest of times and He’s sufficient in the midst of the storms.

The North American Mission Board reported Sept. 23 that in response to Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan, more than 1.5 million meals had been prepared, more than 5,000 volunteers were logged, more than 5,000 recovery jobs were completed and more than 17,000 showers were provided. The response to Ivan has spread to include volunteers working in Florida, Alabama, West Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina. An International Mission Board assessment team is in the Caribbean Basin formulating a plan for that region as well.

The Florida Baptist Convention reported that Hurricane Jeanne’s movement across the Caribbean generated torrential rains in Haiti resulting in devastating flooding in the Gonaives region, and leaving more than 1,100 dead, 1,250 missing and 250,000 homeless.

The convention, which maintains a partnership with Haiti, reported they have already acted to assist the storm-wracked country by wiring $3,000 to Florida Baptist missionary personnel there with instructions to purchase food and water and arrange for immediate transport to the devastated Gonaives region. It was anticipated a second food and water shipment would be authorized by Sept. 27. Under normal conditions, a shipment takes at least six hours to deliver, but news reports indicate that road destruction and riot conditions have dramatically slowed relief convoys.

Financial contributions to relief efforts in Florida may be sent to the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave. Jacksonville, FL 32207 and designated for hurricane relief. Contributions to offset direct costs of the disaster relief response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, or to the North American Mission Board online at www.namb.net/disasterrelief or by mail to the North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, Ga., 30368-6543.
With reporting by James A. Smith Sr. & Don Hepburn.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan