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Post-Ike relief begins in Texas

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–Hurricane Ike recovery is underway with Southern Baptists of Texas Convention volunteers clearing trees and debris in the piney woods of East Texas, but the physical damage to churches along the Gulf Coast was harder to assess early Monday with the Galveston and Bay City areas near Houston without electricity and phone service.

One-hundred Southern Baptist disaster relief units from 23 states have been commissioned to feed people in shelters along the Gulf Coast and farther inland. SBTC volunteers, for example, are feeding hurricane evacuees in Tyler, Livingston, Port Arthur and Huntsville, SBTC disaster relief director Jim Richardson reported.

Ike’s destructive swath was “catastrophic,” Richardson said, spreading its damage east of Galveston into Louisiana and north into deep East Texas along much of the same area that Hurricane Rita devastated in September 2005.

“We have cleanup and recovery teams in the field right now. We’re assessing damage in East Texas. We have all of our DR units out. Texas Baptist Men has all of theirs out,” Richardson said. “Our teams are feeding, doing cleanup and assessment, or providing for chaplaincy needs. The shelters are still very active. We have immediate need of volunteers for mud-out and chainsaw work.”

The Southern Baptist TEXAN’s attempts to reach churches along the Gulf Coast were mostly unsuccessful, as many were without phone service on Monday.

Marcos Ramos, pastor of First Baptist Church in Galena Park, about 20 miles north of the coast between Houston and Galveston, said his home was without electricity but not the church, where 28 people slept Friday night and early Saturday as Ike hit.

“We didn’t have services,” Ramos said. “Most of our people evacuated. We were at the parsonage, and we’re OK except no electricity.”

A home he is buying in LaPorte, which his mother lives in, sits only two blocks from the sea wall, yet it received no major damage or flooding. “We thank the Lord for that.”

“We’re barbecuing outside,” Ramos said. “We’re heating up coffee and cooking out there. Of course we are using candles. We’re thinking about renting a generator. It’s going to get better but it might be a while for some people.”

Ramos said several cool nights in a row have made sleeping easier in the normally warm, humid coastal climate.

Billy Graff, pastor of University Baptist Church in Galveston, said: “The best report I have to date is that the church has very minimal damage. The church is surrounded by tall buildings, which apparently provided protection. If we had power we could have services. The most challenging problem is that we are not allowed back on the island. This could be a great opportunity to connect with the community for Christ.”

Most Houston churches followed Mayor Bill White’s request to stay off major roadways for emergency personnel to operate. On Sunday, news reports said as many as 90 percent of the city’s 2.3 million people were without electricity.

The website at Houston’s First Baptist Church said the congregation cancelled plans to meet at 6:30 p.m. Sunday for a prayer service to honor the mayor’s request. The church cancelled Sunday morning services as well. The website invited members to work Monday and Tuesday to clear debris around the campus. The church sustained some rain damage during the storm, the website reported. First Baptist Academy, its K-12 school, is closed until Thursday.
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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