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Sandy’s storm devastation ‘unprecedented,’ leader says in mobilizing Baptist volunteers

NEW YORK CITY (BP) — Nearly 90 people have been confirmed dead in the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the number of people who remain unaccounted for is unknown, officials said Nov. 1.

Tensions were rising as electricity remained off for nearly 5 million customers in the Northeast and access to basic necessities grew more difficult.

State troopers were deployed at gas stations in New Jersey where desperate customers resorted to fighting over the opportunity to fill gas cans for generators, according to FoxNews.com. More than 80 percent of stations in New Jersey were unable to sell gasoline Wednesday because of a fuel shortage and a lack of electricity to operate the pumps.

D batteries for flashlights were extremely hard to find in the region, and at some grocery stores, only customers who could provide exact change were able to purchase items they needed.

“You see the worst in people at a time like this,” the manager of a Lowe’s store in New York told FoxNews.com. “… People are hurting.”

Disaster relief requests were growing in New York and New Jersey as slowly recovering communication lines among Southern Baptist pastors revealed the extent of suffering.

Responding to rising requests from the American Red Cross, the Baptist Convention of New York was setting up four feeding stations supported by 120 volunteers and capable of preparing around 105,000 meals a day.

Two feeding units from the Georgia Baptist Convention and others from the North American Mission Board, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and the BCNY were to begin serving meals as early as lunch on Friday (Nov. 2), said Beverly Flannery, a BCNY disaster relief assistant.

In addition, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma Thursday morning deployed to Middleton, N.Y., 21 volunteers and a feeding unit capable of preparing 18,000 meals a day, according to Sam Porter, Oklahoma’s disaster relief director, who has another large unit on standby.

“Whatever you need Oklahoma is committed to respond no matter what the cost,” Porter wrote in an email to disaster relief leaders. “We know this event is unprecedented.”

Only two churches had been located with electrical power to house volunteers in New York, specifically Crossroads Church in Staten Island and North Shore (Presbyterian) Community Church in Oyster Bay, Flannery said.

“Most of the places do not have power,” she said, emphasizing the difficulty of finding housing for volunteers. “Long Island we know has a lot of devastation.”

Feeding stations will be located in Long Island, Queens, Staten Island and in Riis Park near the site of a massive fire that destroyed more than 100 homes after Sandy made landfall.

David Perrson, director of NJNet, a Southern Baptist association of churches in the northern half of New Jersey, said volunteers need to be aware of the lack of resources there. Perrson waited in line two hours for gas on Wednesday.

Food stores were bare of staple items such as bread, milk and water before the storm and, without power, have had to dispose of perishables. Many trees are down, others are still falling, Perrson said, and it might be two weeks before power is restored in some areas.

“The DR workers who are coming need to be self-contained because many of the churches and places that could house them have no [electricity] and sometimes no water or sanitation because of that,” Perrson said. “Whoever comes to help, my encouragement is they can’t expect to have anything here for them. They have to come self-contained, especially in these first couple of weeks.”

Many churches can offer volunteers little more than a hug, Perrson said.

“This is worse for us than Irene last year. The Jersey Shore, the coastline is devastated. It’s like a war zone. I don’t have power at my home, or Internet, so I’m isolated. And you’re hesitant to go too far driving because you want to maintain some gas in your cars,” Perrson said. “I’m reaching out, but I’m not able to connect with the pastors. I can call and leave a message on their cell phone or a text, but there is actually no guarantee that they’re getting that.”

North Carolina’s Steve Reavis, overseeing Southern Baptist feeding operations in New Jersey, had scheduled the start of serving meals Thursday (Nov. 1) at Rutgers University and has mobilized another feeding site in Hammonton.

A North Carolina feeding unit was en route to Toms River, N.J., to work alongside Georgia Baptist volunteers there, and another unit is on its way to Lumberton, N.J., to assist in New Jersey or New York as needed, said Gaylon Moss, North Carolina’s disaster relief director.

Volunteers from the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, led by disaster relief director Karlene Campbell, are assisting with feeding operations in southern New Jersey.

In West Virginia, heavy snowfall knocked out power and is hindering relief crews from reaching some residents. As of Wednesday, according to state director of missions Delton Beall, more than 100,000 residents still lacked electricity and five people had died.

Kitchen units were to be deployed at Wayside Southern Baptist Church in Buckhannon and Restoration Church in Mt. Nebo, W.Va.

“[O]ur biggest challenge right now is just trying to get food and water to people and getting hot meals, so with our kitchen units being engaged, we’ll be able to do that and work with our Red Cross partners,” Beall said.

Wayside’s pastor, Don Knotts, said wet, heavy snowfall brought down trees and power lines in the area, and flooding will be a concern as temperatures rise and the snow melts. He commended the church for helping with disaster relief efforts.

“We’re always wanting to reach out to the community to share the love of Christ in whatever way that we can,” Knotts said. “I just find that people are more open to receiving the Gospel whenever you come to their aid in a disaster situation.”
Compiled by Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press and John Evans, a writer in Houston. To contribute to the relief efforts, contact state Baptist convention offices or, for the North American Mission Board’s disaster relief effort, visit namb.net/disaster-relief-donations. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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