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Florida Baptists experience Georges’ assault on four fronts


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–After ransacking Florida Baptist Convention’s partnership countries — Haiti and Cuba — Hurricane Georges pounded Florida on both ends, sending convention personnel scurrying to affected areas throughout the state and Caribbean.
One week after Hurricane Georges hit Key West, convention officials have established feeding, relief and recovery operations on three fronts: the Florida Keys, Panhandle and Haiti. Convention officials were also in communication with the Western Cuba Baptist Association determining the damage on that island nation.
Key West: More than 200 volunteers representing Florida Baptist churches have been on site in the Florida Keys to help victims recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Georges. The volunteer teams, organized by the Florida Baptist Convention in Jacksonville and the Southern Baptist Convention, have been assisting in clean up and recovery, child care, providing medical supplies and offering financial assistance to those in need.
Three disaster relief mobile feeding kitchens from three states were feeding residents from three locations: Georgia Baptist Convention at First Baptist Church, Big Pine; South Carolina Baptist Convention at Sugarloaf Baptist Church in Summerland Key; and Florida Baptist Convention at Fifth Street Baptist Church in Key West. On one single day, the three mobile units served 11, 500 hot meals to Florida Key residents without electricity. In just three days, the volunteers served over 20,000 meals. The feeding units will continue feeding until all electricity has been restored.
Two of the 10 churches in the Florida Keys sustained significant damage, First Church, Big Pine and Sugarloaf. Two Key West churches, White Street Baptist and Fifth Street Baptist, received some damage.
West Florida: Immediately after Georges pummeled Pensacola and other areas in Panhandle, emergency officials determined that flooding caused by the storm’s torrential 20 inches of rainfall — not destruction from the wind — would be the greatest problem in the area. A 50-mile section of Interstate 10 was closed between Milton and DeFuniak Springs because of flooding on the Yellow River. Flooding along the Shoal River closed the US 90 bridge east of Crestview and was expected to close Florida 85 the main link between that city and Fort Walton Beach. Officials are expecting a 17-foot flood crest on the Shoal River.
The Panhandle Baptist Mobile Feeding Unit was activated on Oct. 1 and stationed at First Baptist Church of Mossy Head, between Crestview and DeFuniak Springs, to take food to 300-400 families displaced due to the rising flood water. A Florida Baptist Convention command center was established at the church as a site to coordinate the work of clean up and recovery crews after the water subsides.
Haiti: Hurricane Georges dumped 20 inches of rain into Haiti’s central mountains, unleashing a tidal wave that swamped villages, killed dozens and left many people missing. At least 147 deaths were reported. Worse yet, the Artibonne Valley, which grows Haiti’s rice and vegetables, was underwater.
After the hurricane struck, Christian Sanon, director of the convention’s Haitian Church Starting Department, flew to the island nation to assess damage, reporting 19 churches affiliated with the Florida Baptist Convention were damaged or destroyed. Eighteen church families lost homes and nearly 6,000 families lost crops or animals.
The Florida Baptist Convention response will be two-fold: rebuilding churches and feeding people.
Noting these statistics are alarming for the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer, announced plans to begin buying and distributing rice and beans to Haiti’s outlying areas. “Operation: Rice and Beans” is an organized effort to purchase and truck the two commodities to locations throughout the country. A goal of $50,000 in funds has been set to underwrite the cost of purchasing and distribution.
The International Mission Board has committed to provide nearly $5,000 in financial assistance for families who lost homes and food relief for members in Artibonne.
Cuba: Phone conversations with Leoncio Veguilla, president, and Victor Gonzales, convention secretary of the Western Cuba Baptist Convention, which affiliates with the Florida Baptist Convention, indicate there is no known damage to convention churches, properties or families. However damage was severe for the Eastern Cuba Baptist Convention, which affiliates with American Baptist Churches.

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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