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S. Baptists launch 4th disaster relief response to Fla. in 6 weeks

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–About 600 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers from 10 states were in various stages of deployment to Florida’s east coast Sept. 27 in the wake of Hurricane Jeanne –- the fourth hurricane to hit the Sunshine State in the past six weeks.

Mickey Caison, manager of the North American Mission Board’s Disaster Operations Center near Atlanta, said units could begin preparing meals on site as early as Sept. 28.

“We’re working on identifying those sites today and trying to start a few units moving in and getting them set up,” Caison said.

At least six people were killed as a result of Jeanne, which slammed ashore just before midnight Sept. 25 with 120-mph winds near the southern end of Hutchinson Island, five miles southeast of Stuart on Florida’s east coast — near the same site of Hurricane France’s landfall on Sept. 5. The Florida Division of Emergency Management reported that 1.9 million homes and businesses in the state were without power early Monday.

“We’re seeing major damage in some of the same areas that were damaged by Frances, areas on Florida’s east coast across to Lake Okeechobee, to Orlando and out by Tampa as well as that area in the middle of the state hit heavily by Hurricanes Charley and Frances,” Caison said.

Mobile kitchen units activated Sept. 27 were en route from Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Caison said the restoration of electricity and improved conditions in some parts of Alabama’s Gulf Shores region and the Florida Panhandle allowed a few units in operation following Hurricane Ivan to be reassigned in the wake of Hurricane Jeanne.

Meanwhile, disaster relief efforts continue along the Gulf Coast in Alabama and Florida as well as in West Virginia where Ivan’s remnants caused widespread flooding.

More than a dozen units from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Alabama have closed Alabama operations in Mobile, Orange Beach, Robertsdale and Andalusia as well as a site at First Baptist Church in DeFuniak Springs, Fla., and are relocating to Florida’s east coast.

Caison said these mobile kitchens, shower units, communication units and cleanup and recovery teams, in operation following Hurricane Ivan’s landfall Sept. 16, would be reassigned to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Jeanne from West Palm Beach, Fla., as far north as Daytona as well as from Orlando to Tampa.

“We have mobilized and de-mobilized nearly 500 units as a part of the response we have been in for 50 days now,” Caison said. “We have used just about every one of our units that are available, or that we can get to Florida, and we’ve used them two or three times.”

Casion said recovery efforts will continue throughout Alabama and Florida for months to come.

“In Alabama, there are probably over 4,000 job requests for tree removal, roofing and things like that from Hurricane Ivan, and there are still needs following Hurricanes Charley and Frances, as well as new needs as a result of Hurricane Jeanne,” Caison said.

According to the National Hurricane Center, four hurricanes haven’t battered the same state in one season since 1886 in Texas. Since Aug. 13, nearly 100 people in the United States have been killed in hurricanes and tropical storms and damage estimates exceed $15 billion.

“It’s stretching us and challenging us,” Caison continued. “We have a lot of frustration out there … folks who are tired and angry who are dealing with a lot of emotions. For those who have been affected by it, you can’t imagine the impact that it has on them.”

Meanwhile, Caison said, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and the Florida Baptist Convention are preparing to send units and teams to the Caribbean, including Haiti, Grenada, Jamaica and the Bahamas.

“We are working with the International Mission Board, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and Florida Baptist Convention to mount a response to the needs down there,” Caison said. “And, we’re not out of the woods yet, as the hurricane season doesn’t officially end until Nov. 30.”

In the wake of Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan, nearly 6,000 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers have helped prepare more than 1.6 million meals and completed nearly 5,000 cleanup and recovery projects.

Since Aug. 1, Southern Baptists have given nearly $400,000 to NAMB to help cover the costs of this unprecedented disaster relief response. Contributions to offset direct costs of the disaster relief response may be sent to state conventions, associations or churches responding to the effort, or to the North American Mission Board. NAMB contributions may be made online at www.namb.net/disasterrelief or mailed to North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, Ga., 30368-6543.

For regular updates on Southern Baptist Disaster Relief efforts, visit www.namb.net/dr.

    About the Author

  • Lee Weeks