PATERSON, N.J. (BP)–Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units will be busy for several weeks helping Hurricane Irene victims in New Jersey and New York as rivers continue to rise, Baptist leaders said after a survey trip that was hampered by floodwaters and washed-out roadways.
“We’re definitely going to need more people on the ground … for at least two or three more weeks,” said Terry Robertson, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New York.
Robertson, along with BCNY disaster relief director Michael Flannery and David Persson, director of the New Jersey Network of Churches association, saw extensive flooding as they toured parts of northern New Jersey on Wednesday evening, Aug. 31.
“If I just listen to the national media, I would have had the impression that most of the problems are over,” Robertson said. “I really was surprised to see how many roads are washed out. It looks as though most of the city of Patterson, N.J., is under water.
“Those not in trouble may not be aware that others are hurting. There is just massive flooding,” he said. “As of this morning [Sept. 1] I was still receiving word that five rivers are yet to crest.”
A feeding unit already is en route from Kentucky to the Albany/Schenectady areas, Robertson said, as SBDR assessment was continuing and Flannery was meeting Thursday (Sept. 1) in Albany to coordinate SBDR relief efforts with Red Cross leaders.
A feeding unit in Washingtonville, N.Y., meanwhile, began Wednesday preparing 2,000 meals for lunch and dinner, aided by local and Mississippi volunteers.
Several churches have opened their doors to host DR teams, Persson reported. The challenge is waiting for floodwaters to recede to determine not only the need, but also the best locations to house relief teams, he said.
“The problem we’re encountering is we cannot even get into the flooded areas because of the flooding,” Persson said of the wait for rivers to go down, noting that “they don’t all go down at the same time. As of yesterday, they were still taking people in boats out of their homes. When the SBDR teams come in … part of the training is to do this in Jesus’ name and look for opportunities to share.”
The Passaic River is responsible for flooding most of Patterson, N.J., one of the hardest-hit areas. President Obama has declared several counties disaster areas, making them eligible for federal assistance.
Mud-out teams will certainly be in demand as the assessment continues, BCNY leaders said.
The Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey is still assessing damage there, although there have been no reports of dire need, said David Waltz, the convention’s executive director.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Waltz said, but noted, “At first, everyone thought that we were home free,” he said, “and then the rivers kept rising.”
The convention heard that 60 homes in Noxem Township, a small Pennsylvania community, had flooded, but Waltz said the convention is still awaiting word on needs there.
Diana Chandler is a freelance writer in New Orleans.