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Hurricane Frances roars through Florida, disaster relief units stand ready to respond

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–As Texas-sized Hurricane Frances battered the east coast of Florida Sunday morning, Sept. 5, the North American Mission Board prepared to dispatch a massive disaster relief force to the Sunshine State.

Approximately 110 units are currently activated, staged or on standby from 25 state Baptist conventions and NAMB, according to Mickey Caison, manager of NAMB’s Disaster Operation Center.

Totaling approximately 1,750 volunteers, the units include operations in feeding, recovery, showers, command and communications, laundry and childcare.

The workers are eager to move, Caison said.

“We’re in a challenged situation right now,” Caison said Sunday morning. “The storm has stalled and is not moving real fast. People are anxious to move and need to be patient.”

Fritz Wilson, director of disaster relief for the Florida Baptist Convention, said not only Frances’ size but also its slowness is causing logistical headaches.

“We shut down our Hurricane Charley response early (Sept. 1) and we basically have been waiting for five days,” said Wilson, who is temporarily coordinating operations in his state from NAMB’s offices.

“Still, we probably won’t begin to be able to place units anywhere in the strike zone of Frances until late (Monday) afternoon, just because we’ve got to wait until the storm clears,” Wilson said.

Caison said the needs are so intense that new volunteers will be accepted for disaster relief duty after Frances; normally workers must undergo training before responding to a disaster.

The Florida Baptist Convention will offer short training sessions for new volunteers at its command center at Lake Yale, then assign them to work alongside trained volunteers.

According to an Associated Press report, Frances made landfall at 1 a.m. Sunday at Sewell’s Point, just east of Stuart and about 40 miles north of West Palm Beach.

Sixty-five miles north of Stuart, a restaurant owner in Melbourne who rode out the storm at her business told AP the wind and rain “looked like a giant fire hose going off at full blast.”

By 9 a.m. Sunday, the center of the hurricane was nearing Lake Okeechobee, about 110 miles southeast of Tampa, the Cable News Network said.

Although its maximum sustained winds had dropped from 105 miles per hour to 90 miles per hour, CNN said a gust of 124 miles per hour had been reported at Cape Canaveral. The news service said tropical force winds prior to the hurricane had knocked out power to more than 1.6 million homes and businesses and uprooted trees.

One satellite image early Sunday showed the hurricane’s eastern edge stretching from Fort Lauderdale past St. Augustine, a distance of over 300 miles. The storm is expected to linger over the state throughout the day, dropping 8 to 12 inches of rain and up to 20 inches in some areas.

As far north as Tallahassee, in Florida’s western panhandle, winds gusted at 40 miles per hour early Sunday and are expected to reach 70 miles per hour on Monday, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

Frances has spawned tornado warnings and a wake of downed power lines, forced curfews, and closings of airports, businesses, shipping ports, state parks, amusement parks and the Kennedy Space Center.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that boil-water advisories were issued in several southeastern Florida cities.

While Southern Baptist volunteers await the signal to move in to deal with this damage, they are gathering at four staging sites, including: Government Street Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala.; First Baptist Church in Richmond Hill, Ga.; the Agri-center Fairgrounds in Perry, Ga.; and the South Carolina Baptist Convention office in Columbia, S.C.

Besides disaster relief workers, the SBC is recruiting chaplains to assist storm victims. The Florida Baptist Convention is seeking translators who can help with a large population of Hispanics and other ethnic groups.

In addition, NAMB hopes to refer up to 200 volunteers to the American Red Cross, who needs them to drive feeding trucks, known as ERVs (emergency response vehicles).

By 9 a.m. Sunday 95 volunteers had signed up for duty, which Caison said requires a two-week commitment. Volunteers may contact NAMB by telephone, (800) 462-8657, ext. 6133.

In coming days, Southern Baptists will be staffing four mobile kitchens, two owned by the Red Cross – known as “Henry’s Kitchen” and “Spirit of America” – and two by the Salvation Army.

Caison said the Red Cross’s two 18-wheeler truck units can prepare up to 20,000 meals a day, while the Salvation Army’s two mobile units can fix 16,000 meals per day.

SBC disaster relief workers also operated those kitchen during clean up after Hurricane Charley, which struck southwestern and central Florida on Aug. 13.

Before Charley relief operations were suspended Sept. 1 because of Hurricane Frances, Southern Baptist volunteers:

— Served more than 886,000 meals.

— Provided nearly 17,000 showers.

— Completed nearly 1,900 laundry loads.

— Distributed commodities to 9,240 families and cared for nearly 225 children.

The response involved 221 units or teams from 27 state conventions and spanned more than 19,600 volunteer days, according to Joel Phillips, deputy manager for the Disaster Operation Center.

Caison said primary prayer requests are for people throughout Florida, especially those in the path of Hurricane Frances, the safety of relief workers, and for patience for volunteers as they wait for activation.

“The financial needs are great as the response is so massive,” Caison said. “Not only Frances is involved but the aftermath of Charley is as well.”


Contributions to offset direct costs of the disaster relief response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, or to the North American Mission Board. NAMB contributions may be made online at www.namb.net/disasterrelief or mailed to North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker