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Fla. Baptists wait for Fay to pass

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–As Florida Baptists braced for an onslaught of rain, Tropical Storm Fay made its second landfall in Florida, south of Naples, in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Fay crossed the Keys Monday, Aug. 18, leaving high waters but little damage otherwise after it had moved through the Caribbean, leaving 14 reported dead in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

On Tuesday, Aug. 19, the Florida Baptist Convention’s disaster relief department sent personnel to the Keys to assess needs. They reported no significant need there, with local cleanup teams remaining on alert.

“Fay will take two to three days to clear the state and there will be lots of water over that time,” said Fritz Wilson, director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s disaster relief department. “The ground will be thoroughly saturated, causing some trees to fall down as a result of the soggy soil combined with high winds. Still those incidents will be sporadic and isolated.”

The Associated Press reported that Southwest Florida International Airport near Fort Myers postponed about 140 flights Tuesday and many schools and businesses closed throughout the peninsula, including those in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas.

In Key West, Ozzie Vater, senior pastor of Fifth Street Baptist Church, reported localized flooding but no real damage that he could see.

“We needed the rain so it was the best case scenario, without the property damage,” Vater said. “We prayed for the best on Sunday and [Fay] never did intensify. Everything went well.”

Further up the western side of the peninsula, in Punta Gorda, where deadly Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 storm struck the community in 2004, Paul Russell, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, said he was keeping a cautious eye on Fay.

“It was reminiscent of Charley,” Russell said of the watching and waiting for Fay to arrive Tuesday, compared to four years ago when there was little warning for the savage storm that abruptly turned toward their community.

“This time we battened down the hatches and boarded up the windows but haven’t really seen anything much,” Russell said, speaking only of some heavy rain and some wind.

In Avon Park, Vernon Harkey, pastor of First Baptist Church, said he believed Fay didn’t appear to be doing much damage.

“I don’t know what’s happening elsewhere, but I think we’ll fare a lot better than last time when we had the trio,” Harkey said. The trio? Charley, Frances and Jeanne. Three storms that hit the same region of Florida in 2004 causing enormous damage.

As the storm clears different parts of the state, Florida Baptists’ disaster relief office will follow up with calls and visits as needed. “We are strongly recommending to our units and teams across the peninsula to be ready to respond to local needs as they arise,” Wilson said.

The convention’s state cleanup coordinator, Leon Branch, reported that a trailer community in Barefoot Bay, south of Melbourne, with 30 trailers had sustained damage. Disaster relief first responded to this area in 2004 after it received damage from Hurricane Jeanne. Brevard Baptist Association disaster relief assessors will be on site to determine their needs.

“We will not be able to do any work until the rain stops tonight,” Wilson said. “Still, this remains a local event and we will use teams from the area to help.”

Wilson noted that the region is in the “peak part” of the hurricane season and still has about eight to 10 weeks to go until things return to normal.

“We have some concerns for flooding in Jacksonville around the St. John’s River and Black Creek areas but that threat is dependent upon the track of the storm,” Wilson said.
Lauren Urtel is a writer for the Florida Baptist Convention. Joni B. Hannigan of the Florida Baptist Witness contributed to this article.

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