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KATRINA 2005-15: Disaster training proved its worth


GULFPORT, Miss. (BP) — Dionne Williams opened the large French doors that led into his Gulf Coast home and couldn’t believe what five and a half feet of Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge had done.

Clothes were ruined. Books destroyed. Tools unusable. Photos, memorabilia, priceless family mementos gone forever.

Williams knew what intense hurricanes were like. He had been a preteen when Hurricane Camille wrecked the Gulf Coast in 1969. As a veteran of many hurricane seasons, he didn’t take lightly the prospects of Hurricane Katrina barreling down on the Gulf Coast. He and his wife Susie even had a hotel room booked in Natchez, Miss.

But no one expected what happened on Aug. 29, 2005. Yet, for two important reasons, the devastation wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been for Williams and his family in Gulfport, Miss.

“We had flood insurance, and that really helped us,” said Williams, who serves as associate director of missions for the Gulf Coast Baptist Association in Mississippi. “God, in His wisdom, caused a big rain 10 years earlier so we bought the flood insurance.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief became the other answer to prayer. Williams’ insurance adjuster told him he needed his house gutted out. SBDR teams from North Carolina were there to help. He was among more than 17,000 homeowners Southern Baptists served in the first seven months after the hurricane.

Though they’d been Southern Baptists for years, Dionne and Susie were genuinely moved by SBDR’s ministry.

“For the first four or five years after the storm, when there was a need for someone to go and do a mud-out somewhere, my wife was the first to volunteer,” Williams said. “She remembered what it was like to be served by disaster relief.”

Williams had been trying to increase the association’s involvement in SBDR for the five years before Katrina. Finally, in January 2005, 13 people attended the first SBDR training the association held since Williams arrived. In May of that year, just three months before Hurricane Katrina hit, Williams was among a group in the association who participated in a second SBDR training — this time for mud-out work, which came in handy after Katrina.

“With help from my family, I was able to get the furniture in the house out,” Williams said. “I made them garb up and do everything they were supposed to do with the masks, the double gloving and the bleach water. I said, ‘Thank you, God, that You prepared us to take care of that.’ Then the North Carolina team came and gutted the house, taking out all the fixtures and everything.”

Williams spent much of the next few years on the front lines of the rebuilding effort on the Gulf Coast, managing and resourcing SBDR teams who wanted to help. For him, the experience underscored the importance of trained volunteers. While Gulf Coast residents were grateful for the help of any Southern Baptists who wanted to serve, Williams said it was much easier to use people who were adequately trained. In the Gulf Coast Baptist Association, the number of trained SBDR volunteers skyrocketed from 15 to 300 in less than two years.

Williams encourages churches to get SBDR training and be prepared to serve during future disasters.

Even for Christians, “there’s still a sense of loss and sometimes that hopelessness” in a crisis, Williams said. “What are we going to do? How are we going to be able to come out of this? But the service of [Southern Baptist Disaster Relief] gave us a sense of hope and ‘Yeah, there’s a way we’ll be able to survive this, get back to the way we were and be able to minister in the way we were ministering.'”

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  • Tobin Perry