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Relief work continues in Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa (BP)–Disaster relief units from 13 Baptist state conventions remain onsite in Iowa, where efforts at restoring a region devastated by massive flooding and strong tornadoes have reached the two-month mark.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has declared 83 of the state’s 99 counties disaster zones. Though the flooding in most counties was contained in areas near rivers, the impact has been significant on the economy and in homes not located in traditional flood zones. Muddy basements and flooded streets continue to cause problems across the state.

A Southern Baptist incident command center continues to operate in a conference room at the Baptist Convention of Iowa building in Des Moines. David Abernathy of Ruston, La., serves as the commander, and he expects the center to remain staffed with three people through Aug. 1.

The command center coordinates logistics as the disaster relief units work with the American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency officers in the state. Baptist feeding units were stationed in Cedar Rapids until July 25 and will remain open in Wapello in eastern Iowa until Aug. 1.

The downtown business district in Cedar Rapids was flooded along with several square miles of residential properties. In Wapello, the town itself was largely spared, but the outlying countryside was inundated by floodwaters. The nearby town of Oakville, with a population of 439 residents, was completely flooded when a levee broke. Approximately 200 homes were submerged. The town is slowly starting to rebound, but officials say many of the homes have been damaged beyond repair.

Both in Cedar Rapids and in Oakville, Southern Baptist recovery units have been doing mud-out operations for about five weeks. About 20 state conventions have sent feeding units, mud-out crews or shower and laundry trailers to Iowa since the natural disasters began.

Chuck Spindler, pastor of Crest Baptist Church in Creston, reported July 28 that rivers in southern Iowa at capacity and basements were flooding after even more rains. Areas of the Des Moines metro area along Four Mile Creek were flooding on July 28 and residents were being evacuated for the third time this summer.

The state office of emergency management reports that more than 40,000 Iowans initially were displaced by flooding and tornadoes. Many of those now are housed in temporary living quarters or with family members. Most of the emergency shelters now have closed except for the one in Wapello.

In Cedar Rapids, the feeding unit was hosted by Immanuel Baptist Church; in Wapello, the feeding operation is based at Solid Rock Baptist Church.

Ty Berry, disaster relief coordinator for the Baptist Convention of Iowa, said, said pastors Dan Wiersema in Cedar Rapids and Dan Doolin in Wapello are weary, like many Iowans. Both have been able to “get away a few days to get some ‘R&R’ but they are still plugging away. Both have been great to work with. The Iowa spirit of cooperation is evident in their congregations,” Berry said.

Each day is different, Berry added, and he has seen the disasters bring out the best in various people, noting, “The unsung heroes come out.”

Ed Greene, operations officer for the Des Moines incident command center, said he has spoken with people from across the nation who have traveled to Iowa to help, and everyone they’ve encountered has had a positive attitude.

“Our volunteers are quick to remark how they appreciate the Iowans, and the Iowans appreciate everyone helping them,” Greene, a resident of Rio Rancho, N.M., said.

David Abernathy, incident commander at the center, reported only two homeowners left in a town of 500 people when he visited Oakville July 22.

“All the houses were wrecked. There was debris in front of all the homes. One house was completely off its foundation,” he said. “Basements have several inches of mud in them.”

Greene said the conditions are miserable for the mud-out teams. “We could not pay these people to do this work. They wouldn’t do it. But [as volunteers] they do it with a smile,” he noted.

Abernathy said the Iowa response was the first call-out for many workers, and they were enthusiastic.

“We are rotating them in and out of the flood zones due to the conditions. It [has been] astounding to watch them,” he said.

Disaster relief officials say some good has been accomplished through the flooding and tornadoes, including 30 professions of faith that have been recorded by chaplains working alongside the feeding and mud-out crews.

Alvin Banner, a chaplain from Ohio, coordinated the disaster relief chaplains for about three weeks and noted that the mud-out crews were reaching out in love to homeowners.

“To see the mud in the basement of the homes is humbling in and of itself,” Banner said. “At one time last month we had nine chaplains on the ground in Iowa.

“It was interesting that we never had anyone ask for anything. When we would go to them, they would try to get you to go help someone else,” Banner said, adding that there was a sense of self-sufficiency among the victims he encountered. “They would say, ‘We can help ourselves. We’ll ask later if we need it.'” But, he said, fatigue is setting in and people still need help.

Jimmy Barrentine, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, said he expects about $80,000 of unreimbursed expenses for the convention when the disaster totals are tallied. He said it’s hard to predict the final cost before the work is finished, but he expects a significant drain on the convention’s budget.

Barrentine expressed appreciation for the cooperation from other state convention disaster relief units as well as the North American Mission Board and LifeWay Christian Resources for their generosity in the tornado and flood relief efforts during the past two months.
Richard Nations is editor of the Iowa Baptist newspaper. Individuals and churches interested in helping with relief efforts in Iowa may contact the Baptist Convention of Iowa office at 515-278-1566 or 2400 86th St., Suite 27, Des Moines IA 50322 (mark checks for the attention of: Disaster Relief — Iowa flood”). Donations for disaster relief also may be made at www.bcisbc.com and www.namb.net (the latter by clicking on “Give Now”).

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  • Richard Nations