ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–As Tropical Storm Gustav churns toward the Louisiana-Mississippi Gulf Coast region, Southern Baptist disaster relief units in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Virginia have been put on alert for a possible response.
Gustav, which made landfall in Kingston, Jamaica, this week, is expected to reach Category 3 hurricane status by the time it makes predicted landfall on the Gulf Coast Tuesday. The National Weather Service said the storm possibly could reach Category 5 status by then.
Disaster relief coordinators at the North American Mission Board have already been in contact with the American Red Cross and Salvation Army which have requested that Baptists be prepared to provide more than 310,000 meals per day in response to the storm. An Arkansas disaster relief team stands at ready to feed evacuees at a Salvation Army shelter in Fort Smith, Ark.
In the meantime, Tropical Storm Hanna could make landfall in Florida this weekend. Weather forecasters expect Hanna to make Category 1 status and say it could possibly cross the Florida peninsula, enter the Gulf of Mexico and strengthen Gustav.
These developments are spurring a series of reactions from officials of Gulf Coast states, especially that of Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana who is suggesting mandatory evacuation of New Orleans by this weekend. More than 700 chartered buses have been dispatched toward the city to pick up an estimated 30,000 residents who have no transportation.
The city of New Orleans modified its evacuation plans after Katrina. Now instead of having areas of last resort within the city, evacuation will be mandatory and relief shelters are on standby in northern Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and elsewhere.
NAMB disaster relief leaders are watching the storm closely and keeping in touch with state Baptist convention partners and other emergency relief organizations in order to best position relief volunteers for the quickest response.
“Tracking the eye is one of the tools that we use,” said Mickey Caison, director of NAMB’s adult mobilization team. “When you’re looking at a hurricane the northeast quadrant is the biggest, the strongest. If it hovers west of New Orleans then the strongest part of the hurricane will hit New Orleans.”
Meanwhile, Southern Baptist volunteers who were in New Orleans rebuilding houses from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of three years ago already have been evacuated and mission groups that were planning to serve next week have been put on hold.
Dave Maxwell, who oversees Baptist volunteer efforts for the North American Mission Board’s Operation NOAH (New Orleans Area Hope) Rebuild, said the pending storm has New Orleans residents understandably on edge.
“The city is waiting just like everybody else to see if this thing is going to intensify,” Maxwell said.
“It is ironic that in the very same week they are reliving the memory of Katrina, New Orleans residents now have to endure the threat of another devastating storm,” said Karl Ragan, a NAMB disaster relief specialist.
For the latest information about Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts related to Gustav, visit www.namb.net.
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine at the North American Mission Board.