INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–In the wake of torrential weekend rains of up to 10 inches in some central Indiana towns, Indiana Baptists have mobilized disaster relief teams and put crews from other Midwestern states on stand-by.
The teams were deployed June 8 as thousands of Southern Baptists converged on Indianapolis, site of the SBC annual meeting June 10-11 at the Indiana Convention Center.
Though some of the flooding had receded by noon Monday, the deluge from Friday night and Saturday was still evident in several small towns south of Indianapolis, most notably around Columbus, Seymour, Paragon, Martinsville and Brazil.
Corn, wheat and soybean fields turned into lakes, and roads and railroad track beds were washed out and covered with debris. Some dams were close to collapsing, and in Columbus, a hospital was evacuated. Parts of Interstate 65 and I-70 were closed temporarily.
John Rogers, team leader for missions and evangelism for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, said seven disaster relief assessment teams were deployed over the weekend to determine local conditions as well as sites and dates for feeding, mud-out and chainsaw teams to be mobilized.
By Sunday night, a feeding unit from New Albany and a command center had been set up at Friendship Baptist Church in Franklin, about 40 miles south of Indianapolis. The feeding kitchen was geared up to cook 3,000 meals for flood victims and volunteers. The unit, which can handle 10,000 meals a day, was staffed by 15 volunteers from various parts of Indiana.
“South of us, it’s really sad,” said Rogers, who was stationed at the command center at Friendship Baptist in Franklin. The Franklin church was selected as the base of operations because it is central to the three flood-ravaged counties of Bartholomew, Johnson and Martin.
Rogers has called for disaster relief assistance from surrounding states and from the SBC’s national disaster response center at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga.
“Seymour looks like an ocean,” Rogers said. “About 1,500 homes were underwater in Columbus. In Brazil, about 20 miles east of Terra Haute, they were taking people out with boats. The westbound lanes of I-70 had to be closed. “In the Paragon and Martinsville areas, 10 inches of rain fell in a 12-hour period,” he added. “Some of the rain gauges dumped out and started over again. In Paragon, which is surrounded by hills, water was coming off the hills like a flash flood. People were already on their roofs as the rescue teams came in.”
The central Indiana flooding, said to be the worst since 1913, resulted in President Bush declaring 29 counties disaster areas, qualifying them for federal assistance.
The floods came on the heels of tornadoes that hit Indianapolis and Edinburgh the previous Tuesday.
Bill Crane, the Indiana Baptists’ top disaster relief “blue hat” and the man directing the Franklin command center, said plans call for providing the American Red Cross with three days of meals. The Red Cross packs a couple hundred of the meals at a time into its emergency response vehicles and delivers them to the flood-affected areas.
“We couldn’t do what we do without these Southern Baptist guys,” Sharon Hawa, mass care feeding manager for the Red Cross, said. “They’ve been great partners of ours.”
Crane, who has been away from his Evansville, Ind., home for a week on disaster relief duty stemming from the tornadoes and the floods, said the first meal would consist of chicken and dumplings, roast beef, green beans and fruit salad. While Southern Baptists provide and pay for the food, the Red Cross supplies drinks.
Rogers said mud-out and chainsaw teams may follow the feeding operation in a week, but “the water is still rising right now, and the weather forecasts even more rain, so we don’t know when we can get in for mud-out and chainsaw work.”
Some homeowners who lost their possessions in the floods had arrived at the Friendship Baptist Church command center in Franklin for counseling from Baptists and the Red Cross, Rogers said.
“I think of the Scripture where Joseph says, ‘You meant this for evil, but God meant it for good,'” Rogers said. “We’ll try to bring hope to these communities. And we take every opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, that He’s over the storm. Our volunteers just want to put a face to Jesus. That’s what we’re all about.”
In the six months following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Rogers said, more than 2,000 Indiana Baptists in the convention’s 440 churches were trained as disaster relief volunteers. Most of them have remained active in disaster relief and also are trained in how to share their faith, he said.
Rogers expressed appreciation for a $1,500 donation from the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Directors of Missions from around the country. The DOMs held their annual meeting June 8 in Indianapolis.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.