ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)—With Hurricane Ivan’s landfall and northeasterly push through Alabama Sept. 16, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief officials deployed assessment teams to survey damage along the state’s Gulf Coast region as well as the Florida Panhandle — areas initially expected to have sustained the brunt of Ivan’s force.
Numerous churches were serving as shelters for evacuees, including First Baptist in Grenada, Miss., where a New Orleans evacuee, Robinette Love, traveling with her father, said, as the local newspaper put it, “the people at the church were extremely nice.”
At First Baptist Church in Vicksburg, Miss., evacuee Gloria Murphy, traveling with her three grandchildren, told the local newspaper, “We’re just thankful to have a roof over our head and not have to sleep in the car” –- after spending one night in the car during a 14-hour evacuation from Loxley, Ala.
Hurricane Ivan made landfall near the resort town of Gulf Shores, Ala., around 2:50 a.m. Eastern, packing 135 mph winds. The hurricane weakened once inland but still was registering maximum sustained winds of 75 mph as of 11 a.m.
Joel Phillips, manager of the North American Mission Board’s disaster operations center near Atlanta, said a damage assessment team was en route to Alabama’s Gulf Coast region to confirm which local Southern Baptist churches and other staging sites would be viable locations to set up mobile kitchens and shower units as well as provide housing for cleanup and recovery teams.
Phillips said that while the Florida Panhandle, including Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach and Panama City, had weathered Hurricanes Charley and Frances relatively unscathed, Ivan was not as kind.
“We do know that Pensacola has been hit hard,” he said.
Phillips said units staged for the past several days in Georgia, Louisiana and Alabama would begin deployment on Friday Sept. 17. He said activation of the units likely would be staggered while the American Red Cross reallocates equipment and resources that have been in operation in Florida since mid-August for recovery efforts following Hurricanes Charley and Frances.
“Today is a waiting game,” Phillips said.
Southern Baptists, who normally prepare meals distributed by the Red Cross in the wake of natural disasters and other emergencies, have prepared more than 1 million meals in hurricane-weary Florida since mid-August.
Following Hurricane Frances, the Red Cross requested Southern Baptist volunteers to drive 200 of their vehicles to distribute meals throughout neighborhoods and communities devastated by the storms. Now, many of those vehicles will need to relocate to Alabama and the Florida Panhandle for the immediate future.
About 35 Southern Baptist Disaster relief units from Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas are staged at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Eight units from Louisiana and Texas remain on standby at the Living Water Baptist Assembly in Covington, La. And the Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Oklahoma state conventions have units on standby in their respective states.
Possible tornadoes spawned by Ivan, which was downgraded from a category 3 to a category 1 hurricane after landfall, appear to pose the most immediate threat over the next 24 hours in eastern Alabama, the Florida Panhandle, western Georgia, eastern Tennessee and the western Carolinas, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Phillips said units have also been put on notice for potential flooding problems across Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia if the storm stalls over Chattanooga as predicted.
No immediate reports were available about the condition of the Baptist-affiliated University of Mobile in Alabama, but officials at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary awoke to sunny skies on Sept. 16.
“We thank the Lord for His wonderful mercy in sparing our city and seminary from any destruction,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. With much of the city below sea level, a hurricane the size of Ivan would have been devastating. However, Ivan turned north as weather forecasters had predicted, sparing the city.
“The campus is in excellent condition and our only inconvenience was the loss of power on part of our campus for an hour,” Kelley reported.
“It is the hand of God on which we rely at this seminary,” he added.
Kelley was pleased that much of the seminary family had evacuated when the recommendation was given. He expressed his thanks to all the churches and ministries that offered shelter to NOBTS students. A number of families sought shelter at Camp Garawya in Clinton, Miss., a camp operated by the Mississippi Woman’s Missionary Union.
Kelley’s joy about the near miss was tempered by the fact that many people in Alabama and Florida experienced the full force of Ivan. He and other seminary officials expressed a deep burden for those who are still in danger. In a statement on the seminary’s website, Kelley urged members of the seminary community to pray those in the path of the storm.
Classes on the main campus will resume on Saturday, with seminary offices reopening at 8 a.m. Monday morning. Night classes at the NOBTS extension centers in Decatur, Ga., and Birmingham, Ala., will resume on Monday. Kelley and the NOBTS administration closed the seminary on Tuesday morning when New Orleans was still a possible landfall site.
Among other churches serving as shelters were three in Boaz, Ala. –- First Baptist, Second Baptist and Mount Vernon Baptist –- two in Arab, Ala., First Baptist and Gilliam Springs Baptist, and First Baptist Church in Albertville, Ala.
Mississippi churches opening their doors to evacuees included Calvary Baptist in Vicksburg; First Baptist and Easthaven Baptist, Brookhaven; Monticello Baptist and Bethel Baptist in Monticello; First Baptist, Hazlehurst; First Baptist, Poplarville; First Baptist, Picayune; Sylvarena Baptist, Wesson; Poplar Springs Drive Baptist, Meridian; Morton Baptist, Morton; and First Baptist, Polkville.
Offices in Montgomery of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions were closed Sept. 16, along with the Southern Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union and The Alabama Baptist newsjournal offices in Birmingham.
Art Toalston contributed to this article.