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Ike recovery heads into long-term phase

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–More than a week after Hurricane Ike devastated parts of the Texas Gulf Coast and snapped trees 100 miles inland, people in the hundreds of thousands remained without electricity while Southern Baptists worked to feed hungry people, remove limbs and debris and offer the hope of the Gospel.

A day after the storm, disaster relief (DR) response from Southern Baptists began as teams from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Texas Baptist Men and multiple other states fed evacuees and cleared debris around homes.

That response will be long-term as immediate needs shift toward rebuilding homes and infrastructure along the coast, said SBTC DR director Jim Richardson.

Ike’s wide and destructive swath was “catastrophic,” Richardson said, spreading its damage east of Galveston into Louisiana and north into deep East Texas along much of the same area that Hurricane Rita devastated in September 2005.

Utility officials told the Houston Chronicle that residents along the coast south of Houston would inevitably see higher utility rates as large sections of the Texas power grid is rebuilt.

The SBTC’s partnership with Nehemiah’s Vision, a ministry begun after Rita by First Baptist Church in Vidor, Texas, likely will expand to meet even more rebuilding needs in southeast Texas, Richardson said.

Initially, SBTC volunteers were serving evacuees in Tyler, Livingston, Lufkin, Port Arthur and Huntsville. By Sept. 23, SBTC teams were serving in coastal areas through feeding, chainsaw and chaplaincy ministry as some of the out-of-state DR teams returned home and evacuees began returning to various areas near the coast. Richardson was en route to Galveston Island Sept. 22 to establish a large feeding operation there.

The week after the storm, 18 counties, mostly rural counties east and north of Houston, reported 75-100 percent of residents without power, according to the website of the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Much of Houston went without power for most of the week following Ike as well. By Sept. 22, much of Houston had regained power, with a handful of utility companies reporting a range between 14 and 34 percent of customers, mostly rural or near the coast, still without power.

Numerous churches were damaged, and several were devastated, including First Baptist Church of Gilchrist, a community on Galveston Island, with its worship center washed off its foundation.

Hurricane Ike damaged shingles, among other things, at University Baptist Church in Galveston, but the church fared better than some other congregations near the Texas coast.

Perhaps the oddest scene in the storm’s aftermath was captured by an Associated Press photographer: An 11-year-old pet lioness and her owner failed to evacuate Crystal Beach before the hurricane and ended up taking shelter in the First Baptist Church of Crystal Beach. The AP photo, taken from an elevated position, showed the beast lying near the altar of the church auditorium.

Insurance industry experts estimated physical losses as high as $25 billion, according to Deloitte & Touche L.L.P., a New York-based consulting firm, which would make it the third-costliest storm in United States history.
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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