ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Midwesterners impacted by the historic flooding in the region are calling the disaster “our Katrina” and, as in the hurricane’s aftermath, Southern Baptists are quickly mobilizing to feed thousands displaced by the floodwaters.
Mickey Caison, operations manager for the North American Mission Board’s disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., said the Midwestern floods have been designated as a “multi-state event” and that the center’s staff -– already working 16-hour days -– is ready to shift to around-the-clock mode.
For Iowa alone, Caison said the NAMB disaster relief center has fielded a request from FEMA and the American Red Cross to prepare, cook and distribute 100,000 meals for lunch and dinner on Tuesday (June 17).
Six Southern Baptist feeding units with supporting staff have been deployed to Iowa, the hardest hit area in the Midwest so far, and these units will be preparing the 100,000 meals. They are located in Cedar Falls, Wapello, Davenport, Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Also deployed to these Iowa cities are shower units for both flood victims and volunteers.
“We’re hearing from our affected state disaster relief directors that the floodwaters are already worse than the 1993 floods in Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin,” Caison said. Those were described as “500-year” floods at the time.
“Folks affected in the Midwest have told me this is their Hurricane Katrina,” Caison said. “The number of states, counties and people affected is growing every day.”
Terry Henderson, NAMB’s national disaster relief director, said the flood area is larger than that caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in August 2005.
“In the last 500 years, water had never flooded Des Moines, yet Des Moines had eight inches of water in the downtown area,” Henderson said. He said 66 counties have flooded in Iowa and another 44 in Indiana.
An estimated 11 million Midwesterners have been or will be impacted by the flooding and the tornadoes that have accompanied the storms, according to FEMA.
Some 9,000-10,000 residents of Davenport, Iowa, are scheduled to be evacuated sometime today (Monday, June 16), as floodwaters continue to flow southward toward Missouri, Henderson said.
Another 500 to 600 homes were ordered to evacuate in Cedar Rapids today. In all, some 36,000 Iowans, mostly in Cedar Rapids, evacuated their homes due to the flooding, Dave Miller, administrator of Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told CNN.
Last week’s flooding in central Indiana below Indianapolis was that state’s worst since 1913, according to local reports.
While feeding operations continue in Indiana, mud-out operations have been fewer than anticipated because local citizens have done much of their own mud-out work, Caison said.
But mud-out operations are not under way in Iowa yet because the water either has crested or continues to rise in various parts of the state, he said.
“Historically, for every day the water comes in and the floodwaters rise, it takes two days for it to go down,” Caison explained. “So we have to wait for the water to come in and go down before we can begin to get mud-out units in.
“Because of the levees breaking in Iowa, we’re also moving into areas that were not expected to be flooded. So the needs and where we need to be are changing every hour,” Caison said.
Like the Southern Baptist response in New Orleans -– which still continues three years later -– Henderson said the response by Baptist mud-out and chainsaw teams in Iowa could span many months. “It’s going to be a long-term process,” he said.
According to NAMB’s disaster relief center, feeding/shower/recovery units are located in Indiana in Terre Haute, West Terre Haute, Franklin, New Whiteland and Bloomfield.
Disaster units (feeding, recovery, shower and chaplains) in Wisconsin include those in Reedsburg, Gays Mills and Muscoda.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.