ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — Labor Day was no picnic or holiday for dozens of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) volunteers and leaders involved in responses to flooding along the East Coast and in North Dakota and to raging wildfires across Texas.
And these SBDR responses to floods and fires were afoot even before Tropical Storm Lee dumped up to a foot of rain along the Gulf Coast areas of Louisiana and Mississippi and then moved northeast where it spawned tornadoes in Alabama and Georgia — damaging dozens of homes and causing flashfloods in the Atlanta metro area. At least two people died and 16,000 customers are without power as a result of Lee, according to the Associated Press.
In the wake of Hurricane Irene, Mike Flannery, state disaster relief director for the New York Baptist Convention and a director of missions in Buffalo, reported recovery work will be a crucial need in upper-state New York and north New Jersey, where water levels are receding but are not yet low enough to insert mud-out units.
“We are desperate for mud-out units,” said Flannery, who cited a minimum need for six mud-out teams from other state Baptist conventions.
Flannery also is having to run an educational initiative to train inexperienced New York flood victims who don’t know they must gut their homes down to the framing and do mold and mildew removal before re-occupying their houses.
Flannery is coordinating three feeding operations — two in Washingtonville, N.Y., run by New York and Mississippi Baptists, and a second at Trinity Baptist Church (SBC) in Schenectady, run by 40 feeding volunteers from Kentucky. The Schenectady operation — currently preparing 6,500 daily meals — has the capacity to churn out 15,000 meals a day.
“Please tell Southern Baptists to keep us in prayer,” Flannery said. “In times of crisis, people point their eyes and ears to the Lord.” Flannery said the New York flooding is the worst, most pervasive disaster in his five years in disaster relief in the state.
SBDR volunteers from 25 of the 42 state conventions are assisting in many other disaster relief responses in the 11 states pounded by Hurricane Irene, including feeding units in North Carolina and Virginia.
In North Carolina — where Irene struck its eastern coast and 42 counties have been declared disaster areas — SBDR has fielded more than 1,200 job requests for mud-out and chainsaw work and completed about 600, reported Gaylon Moss, state DR director for the Baptist Convention of North Carolina.
“In North Carolina, four have accepted Jesus as Savior, more than 1,200 volunteer days have been recorded and about 88,000 hot meals have been prepared,” Moss said. SBDR units from seven state conventions have responded at 13 separate sites across North Carolina.
Mark Madison of the Baptist Convention of New England said the needs are widespread in that region.
“We’re focusing on four locations in southern Vermont and in Montpelier. We have 100 jobs assessed and ready to work. We really need 12 more mud-out teams as well as chaplain/assessment teams to make an impact,” Madison said.
In all, after Hurricane Irene, 375 chainsaw and mud-out jobs have been completed; 13 people have made decisions for Christ through 725 Gospel presentations and ministry/chaplain contacts; and nearly 2,800 showers and laundry loads have been provided. To date, SBDR units have prepared nearly 268,000 meals for Irene’s victims, volunteers and responders.
Bruce Poss, disaster relief coordinator for the North American Mission Board, supports Madison, Flannery and others in their desperate pleas for mud-out teams from other parts of the country.
“There’s a lot of needs and we are spread very thin,” Poss said. “We have opportunities and needs for more volunteers in New York, New Jersey, Vermont, North Carolina and Texas. We appreciate the many states that have sent teams but the needs are still there.”
Poss said mud-out and feeding continues in Minot, N.D., where 66 salvations have been documented and 123,000 meals delivered over the last eight weeks.
“We still need to show a strong presence in Minot, although a lot of that will start closing down in mid-September and all of it will be shut down by the end of the month.”
Not to be overshadowed by Hurricane Irene is an impending major disaster relief response by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Texas Baptist Men in drought-plagued Texas, where 60 wildfires across 100,000 acres throughout the state have destroyed 1,000 Texas homes.
“There are fires all over Texas — around Houston, Austin, Corsicana, Mineral Wells and other locations,” said Jim Richardson, SBTC disaster relief director in Grapevine, Texas. “We’ve served some 5,000 meals to firefighters at Palo Pinto near Mineral Wells and are waiting on word on where to go next.”
At least 5,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes in Bastrop County near Austin, and 400 are in emergency shelters. About 500 homes were lost in Bastrop County alone, he said.
After feeding operations, Richardson said “ash-out” recovery operations will start in areas where homes have burned down, helping residents find any last belongings and cleaning off slabs where nothing else is left.
Dick Talley, executive director for TBM’s disaster relief team in Dallas, said 50 of TBM’s Tarrant County feeding volunteers are running a 24-hour-a-day feeding effort for firefighters in Bastrop and providing shower units at Bastrop High School.
“These fires have been going all year long because of the bad drought in Texas,” Talley said. “And we didn’t get a single drop of rain from last weekend’s tropical storm [Lee].”
Despite the wildfires in the Lone Star State, Talley said TBM is sending two more assessment teams to Vermont, teams to North Carolina and an incident commander to Vermont.
“Just because we have these fires in Texas, that doesn’t stop us from serving all over the country,” Talley said.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board.