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Relief teams head to ice-coated states

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units are mobilizing to help residents of six states in the aftermath of a massive ice storm that claimed 27 lives. Kentucky and Arkansas caught the brunt of the ice storm, which rolled out of the central plains Jan. 28 and wreaked havoc all the way to Appalachia.

Kentucky was hit hardest by the ice, with as many as 1 million customers losing their electricity due to downed trees, limbs and power lines. The next day, more than 542,000 Kentucky homes and businesses — 200,000 in Louisville alone — were without electricity, according to news reports.

Coy Webb, state disaster relief coordinator for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, was forced to work from his Louisville home, using a cell phone, because of the widespread outage. Webb said two-thirds of Kentucky was affected by the ice storm, which blanketed the state west to east.

“We’ve already deployed a kitchen operation at a Methodist church in Stanford in Lincoln County,” Webb said. “We had to use the Methodist church there as a shelter because the Baptist church didn’t have electricity.”

Three Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chainsaw teams have been activated in Kentucky’s Christian County, Richmond and Bowling Green, Webb reported.

“But we’re going to have to have scores of other chainsaw teams from other states activated,” he said. “The main problem now is that state emergency management says it’s still too unstable for us to go into some areas because of the live power lines down.

“We anticipate we’ll need help from out-of-state so today we’ll start coordinating with the national disaster relief team at NAMB,” Webb said. “There’s no way we can handle all the needs just out of Kentucky.” Webb said out-of-state chainsaw teams will probably be needed for four to eight weeks.

Arkansas was clobbered with 2½ inches of ice, according to Robby Tingle of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention in Little Rock. Little Rock itself was unaffected by the storm.

“About 250,000 homes from Clinton north lost power,” Tingle said, adding that some estimates call for electricity to be out from 10 days to three weeks.

Tingle said Arkansas disaster relief feeding teams have set up stations in Springdale, Harrison, Mountain Home, Paragould, Hillsboro and Batesville.

“We’ve already contacted all our affected associations, churches and missionaries, to let them know we’ll help them carry out their ministries,” he said. Tingle said some Southern Baptist churches may not have power restored in time for this Sunday’s services.

In addition to the feeding teams, Arkansas Baptists have deployed about 10 chainsaw teams and are getting more ready to go, Tingle said.

“While we don’t need help from out-of-state at the present time, our white caps and blue caps [DR officials] are still assessing the situation, which is still fluid,” Tingle said. “We appreciate the willingness of Southern Baptists from across the nation to help. And I’m so grateful for our volunteers and their willingness to demonstrate the love of Christ in a real tangible way right now.”

In Ohio, Duane Floro, ministry evangelism strategist for the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio, said Hocking and Ross counties in south central Ohio were hit hardest by the ice storm.

“We just received a call from the American Red Cross to bring out our feeding units, and we hope to be in service by Sat. [Jan. 31],” Floro said. The highest priority for feeding in Ohio is a senior adult retirement center in Hocking County, where power remains off. Some 350 meals a day will be prepared at that site until power is restored, Floro said.

In Oklahoma, state disaster relief director Sam Porter said the Sooner State “dodged a bullet” with this ice storm, in contrast with a 2008 ice storm that left 600,000 customers without electricity.

“Most of Oklahoma is OK,” Porter said. “Oklahoma City, Tulsa and the west side of the state were largely unaffected. The major power loss was in a 30-mile radius in the eastern and northeastern parts of the state.” Only 38,000 homes and businesses initially lost power, and that number is now down to 25,000, according to news reports.

Porter said two of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s mobile kitchens were deployed — at the fairgrounds in Muskogee and at Tahlequah’s First Baptist Church. Three chainsaw teams — with about 15 volunteers each — were deployed in Tahlequah, Westville and Cookson. Another 15 to 20 volunteers will serve on the two disaster relief feeding units.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

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