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Fla. disaster relief teams bracing for Ike

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Now that Tropical Storm Hanna is no longer a threat to Florida, Fritz Wilson, state disaster relief director for the Florida Baptist Convention, and his team are turning their full attention to Ike — the next hurricane in what seems to be a never-ending string of storms tearing across the Atlantic toward Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida dodged the first two bullets — Gustav and Hanna — but that may change with Ike, which as of now is Category 3 hurricane and could make landfall Tuesday.

Wilson said Florida Baptist disaster relief crews are planning for the worst-case scenario, which would involve Ike slamming across the tip of South Florida. Some 10 million live in South Florida, including 5 million in the Miami/Dade County area.

“Another scenario calls for Ike to steer south toward the Keys and Cuba and hook around Florida. But models show it could then turn back into Florida’s west coast, anywhere between Pensacola and Naples,” Wilson said. “It’s just too early to tell.

Ike’s landfall intensity is still uncertain.

Through careful coordination with the North American Mission Board’s disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., — and with Hanna hovering for days over the Bahamas — Florida Baptists did not deploy any of their disaster relief equipment to Louisiana or Mississippi for Hurricane Gustav, realizing it would likely be needed at home. The decision proved to be a wise one.

“So much of the SBC disaster relief equipment in the eastern part of the U.S. is available and ready for mobilization in Florida or along the eastern coast,” Wilson said.

Wilson said preparations now under way include checking with the state’s directors of missions, communicating with churches selected to be staging bases and alerting state leadership teams. He said Florida Baptists have learned much since 2005, when Florida was hit by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Dennis and Wilma.

“We know that our plans have to be complete when an evacuation order finally goes out because it’s so much harder to move in and through the affected areas when thousands of people are evacuating,” Wilson said. “We don’t want to be in the middle of that.”

Florida Baptist Convention disaster relief teams probably will be put on alert Sunday morning, Wilson said. On alert will be 5,000 Baptist volunteers, two state feeding units, 70 clean-up units and eight shower units. Most of this equipment is now stored at the Lake Yale Conference Center in Leesburg, Fla.

Wilson said in the Miami Association alone, 10 churches have been chosen as potential sites for feeding and housing volunteers.

“We just ask Baptists to keep us in their prayers,” said Wilson, 47, who’s served as the Florida convention’s disaster relief director since 1999 and who has 17 years of disaster experience under his belt.

“This isn’t my first rodeo,” Wilson says.

For more information or to donate to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, visit www.namb.net or call toll-free 866-407-6262.
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Mickey Noah is a staff writer with the North American Mission Board.

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