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In ice-covered Mo. & Okla., Baptist volunteers help dig out

NIXA, Mo. (BP)–In the wake of powerful winter storms blamed for the deaths of at least 90 people in the Midwest, nearly 1,000 Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers are deployed and working to clean up downed trees and debris in Missouri and Oklahoma.

Danny Decker, state disaster relief director for the Missouri Baptist Convention, called the recent ice storm a “level four” (out of five) disaster, and 20 counties along both sides of the Interstate 44 corridor in southwest Missouri have been declared national disaster areas by President Bush.

“It’s Hurricane Katrina with ice,” Decker said. “Some are being told that it will be four weeks or longer before they get their power back.” About 30,000 people in Missouri are still without power — a big drop, however, from the original 260,000.

Decker said two inches of ice blanketed the Springfield area nine days ago.

“We just thank everyone for the support and encouragement we’ve received from fellow Southern Baptists,” Decker said. “This is a supreme example of what the Cooperative Program can do. In 24 hours, we were able to mobilize the entire Southern Baptist Convention disaster relief system. Some government agencies are just now mobilizing.”

Responding to needs in Missouri and Oklahoma, Southern Baptist units already have prepared more than 45,000 meals, completed more than 660 chainsaw jobs and provided nearly 500 showers and laundry loads. Approximately 3,500-4,000 chainsaw jobs remain to be completed, Decker said.

“It’s going to be a two-month recovery process if the number of volunteers holds out,” he said. “It’s very extensive. We’re just grateful to have a volunteer pool of people willing to work in 18-to-27-degree weather.”

About 70 Baptist volunteers are working out of the incident command team headquarters at the Tri-County Baptist Association in Nixa, Mo., an area south of Springfield and hard-hit by the ice and snow storms.

“We have nine teams from Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama and Tennessee working the Nixa area,” Gary Campbell, incident team commander, said. “We originally received 476 applications for chainsaw work and we’ve done about 100 of them.”

Campbell said some 80,000 homes in the greater Springfield area initially lost power as a result of the two inches of ice that blanketed the area, knocking down tree limbs which, in turn, downed power lines. A week after the storm, about 15,000 Springfield-area homes are still without electricity and, with sub-freezing temperatures, ice remains on trees.

“It’s gone real well and now that we’re oriented, we’re really getting things done,” Campbell, a 69-year-old veteran disaster relief volunteer, said. “We’re getting a good response.”

In all, approximately 40 disaster relief recovery, chainsaw, feeding and laundry units were mobilized to the Bolivar, Diamond, Miller, Neosho, Nixa, Springfield and Waynesville, Mo., areas, according to Jim Burton, director of the disaster operations center at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga. These represent crews from state associations/conventions in Illinois, Arkansas, Minnesota-Wisconsin, Missouri, Mississippi, New Mexico, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Indiana, South Carolina and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Oklahoma, where most of the storm-related deaths occurred, saw about 122,000 homes blacked out by the winter storm’s snow and ice.

Southern Baptists dispatched about 30 disaster relief teams to Arpelar, Eufaula, Grove, Kinta, McAlester, Muskogee, Pryor and Tahlequah, Okla., according to Burton. These represented crews from the following state associations/conventions: Utah, Florida, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Mississippi, Utah-Idaho, Iowa, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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  • Mickey Noah