ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Although Hurricane Gustav has deteriorated now to only a tropical depression, Southern Baptist disaster relief teams are still battling high winds and heavy rainfall as they respond to critical needs in south Louisiana.
While New Orleans was spared from the worst damage, southwestern Louisiana cities such as Houma, New Iberia, Lafayette and Abbeville were hardest hit by
Gustav. Baton Rouge also recorded considerable tree damage.
According to media reports, some 2 million residents have evacuated from the south Louisiana area since last weekend, with the American Red Cross alone sheltering 58,000 people on Monday night.
“The evacuation population is much larger than anyone expected,” said Mickey Caison, director of the SBC North American Mission Board’s adult mobilization team. “It will be Thursday or later before evacuees can return from evacuation centers in several states to their homes in south Louisiana.
“Reports are that evacuees are running out of money and some restaurants are running out of food — especially along the I-20 corridor. So we’ve got to step up to help them at these peripheral evacuation centers. We’ve got to get feeding units to the evacuation centers as quickly as possible.”
Caison said 39 feeding units are now beyond the “on-alert” stage and are rolling or ready to roll to their designated destinations. Baton Rouge will now be the location of the largest Louisiana feeding unit, to be stationed at the Salvation Army headquarters there. Caison said additional major feeding sites for south Louisiana and the Gulf Coast will include Natchez, Hattiesburg and Picayune, Miss.
“We want to start feeding at these locations on Wednesday (Sept. 3) morning,” he said. “But the weather, especially 40-mph winds, has kept us from putting up as many kitchens as fast as we would like.”
Southern Baptist disaster relief personnel have been requested to gear up to a feeding capacity of 572,000 meals, Caison said.
Although Gustav is now only a tropical depression, it has stalled and become almost stationary. As a result, it is expected to dump torrential rainfall between now and Friday on the Arkansa-Louisiana-Texas region where the three states border.
Caison said NAMB’s disaster operations center –- located at the mission board’s Alpharetta, Ga., offices -– is now running at full-force, staffed by 15 people working in two shifts, 7 a.m.–4 p.m. and 2-10 p.m.
Other SBC disaster relief experts in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida are closely monitoring Tropical Storm Hanna, which is centered over the Bahamas and also has weakened. If it strengthens, Hanna could hit the Southeast U.S. coast next Friday, but its specific path is still uncertain.
With 85,000 trained disaster relief volunteers and 1,500 disaster relief units, Southern Baptists are among the three largest disaster relief organizations in the nation. Each state Baptist convention funds and organizes disaster relief work in their state, with the North American Mission Board providing national coordination and communication between Southern Baptists and national disaster relief organizations and government representatives.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For the latest information about Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts related to Gustav or to donate, visit www.namb.net.