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Hurricane damage widespread, some churches still meet

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–While Hurricane Frances slowly crossed the Florida peninsula Sunday, dumping water, uprooting trees and tearing up rooftops, Florida Baptists made preliminary assessments about how this second storm in less than a month will likely affect millions of Florida residents.

Cecil Seagle, director of missions for the Florida Baptist Convention, said Sunday, Sept. 5, he had made contact with about 25 directors of missions and pastors from across the state in order to get a idea of what Florida Baptists face.

In Miami, Seagle said there appeared to be little wind damage, but a lot of rain, according to a report by Miami Baptist Association director of missions, David Cleeland.

Up the coast in Fort Lauderdale, John Fleming, director of missions for the Gulf Stream Baptist Association, told Seagle there does not appear to be serious issues with the wind, but that power was out mostly along the coastal communities. In Plantation, there were a number of large oak trees down, according to Fleming.

John Bracken, director of missions for the Palm Lake Baptist Association in West Palm Beach, told Seagle the heaviest hit areas appeared to be around Stuart, Fort Pierce and Melbourne. It did not appear that “everything is blown away,” Seagle related.

“The preliminary evaluation is that while we have some wind damage, the real damage will be from flooding,” Seagle said.

In Orlando, Bill Faulker, director of missions for the Greater Orlando Baptist Association, told Seagle the wind damage appeared to be minimal, but that there were widespread power outages, and serious flooding in low lying areas, especially southeast Orlando.

Don Miller, director of missions for the Lake County Association, told Seagle the power availability in and around Grand Isles was intermittent.

Further inland, in Lakeland, Robert Roberts, director of missions for the South Florida Baptist Association, told Seagle there had been little rain but a lot of wind wreaking havoc in and around Fort Meade and Mulberry.

“The work they had been trying to do with Charley is basically blown away again,” reported Seagle.

In central Florida at Lake Yale, a Florida Baptist Convention campground and conference center in Leesburg, Hurricane Frances had uprooted dozens of trees, including almost every tree in front of the administration building, with 35 mph wind gusts. The campground was without power and sewer Sunday night. At least two buildings were destroyed when large trees fell on them, Don Sawyer, who is the campground’s coordinator, reported.

“It’s hit us pretty hard,” Sawyer said. “It looks like a war zone out here.”

Sawyer also said the Emergency Operation Center for FEMA in Florida had been contacted because the campground was slated to serve as the main command center for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief operations following Frances.


About 250-300 people, many housed at the facilities, attended worship at First Baptist Church in Leesburg, according to executive pastor Art Ayris.

As a ministry to the city of Leesburg, FBC served as a shelter to the families of fire and police department personnel and heavy equipment operators. Ayris said they will continue to house and feed people for the next few days as Floridians prepare for Ivan as well.

“We’re just getting the tail end of Frances,” Ayris said. “We have just been able to have a lot of ministry to people because of this.”

West of Leesburg, Ed Johnson, pastor, First Baptist Church, Ocala, said there had been a “little wind” in the area by Sunday afternoon, but no major problems, with the exception of somewhat irregular power and debris covering area roads.

Johnson said due to the sporadic storm predictions, church leaders were undecided as to whether to call off Sunday morning worship services, and instead decided to have a “very abbreviated service” for the folks who ventured out.

About 100 showed up instead of the usual 1,500 hundred that attend morning services.

“We didn’t set a record for high attendance,” Johnson said. “But we did at least pray together before sending them on their way.”

In northeast Florida along the coast, many churches cancelled all Sunday services, anticipating the worst from a Hurricane Watch that was issued and then downgraded to a Tropical Storm warning.

Not all churches decided to cancel, however.

Standing on a 43-acre campus along the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, North Jacksonville Baptist Church drew about 600 worshippers, down from its normal 2,500 who attend.

Packing up a few refrigerated items in an ice chest in case the power went out-Frank Douglas, the church’s media coordinator, told the Florida Baptist Witness that except for the lower attendance, it was business as usual at the church facility, built in 1989.

“It was very good; we always have a good service,” Douglas said.

Just a few miles up the road at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, whose pastor is Jerry Vines, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the parking garages were empty by noon as a smaller than usual crowd dispersed to their homes.

Drenched in rain, against a backdrop of dark clouds and menacing skies, the First Baptist lighthouse stood as a beacon to the city, even in the midst of power outages, tornado warnings, heavy wind and rain.

According to a security guard at the church’s sprawling campus that encompasses several city blocks and includes nearly a half-dozen parking garages, attendance was lower than usual, but the church “never lost power” like several other buildings in the downtown area.


Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness, on-line at www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan