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SBC disaster relief teams roll into La.

CLINTON, Miss. (BP)–The night’s warm breeze gave way to a drizzle as Kentucky Baptist disaster relief units rolled out of Camp Garaywa, a Woman’s Missionary Union camp located in this small town west of Jackson.

The camp has long served as a staging ground for disaster relief operations, including those following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “I was here and went down there after Katrina,” says Michael Webb, who served on a recovery unit then and today volunteers with the feeding unit as Kentucky Baptists prepare to serve 30,000 meals a day in Thibodaux, La., nearly four hours away.

While most Southern Baptist disaster relief units routinely handle 10,000-30,000 meals per day, units in Houma and Baton Rouge will handle American Red Cross and Salvation Army requests for 110,000-150,000 meals as Louisiana Gulf Coast residents without power seek food and refuge.

Feeding units are traveling to affected areas from Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia and Kentucky with more possibly to follow. Many of these units also will begin recovery operations in coming days as residents return home to find flooded or wind-damaged homes and downed trees.

Places such as Baton Rouge will be in feeding operations into next week. Evacuees are still making use of shelters in Shreveport and Alexandria, La.

As residents return home, they are asking disaster relief organizations and FEMA for essentials such as blue tarps to keep the rain out of damaged homes.

On Sept. 2 as disaster relief units made final preparations in response to Hurricane Gustav, many Baptist volunteers reflected on Katrina, a storm that changed their ministry lives.

Kentucky disaster relief communications specialist Johnny Kitchen said he decided to use his ham radio skills after he went 8-10 days without talking to his wife, who worked in a feeding unit in New Orleans following Katrina.

“I was in communications in the Army,” he said. “When I couldn’t talk to my wife for more than a week because cell service was down, that’s when I decided to use my interests to help people in trouble.”

Today Kitchen will join Tom Westerfield as they pull behind a trailer packed with ham radio, shortwave radio, scanners and a special communications system that allows them, via the web, to communicate with the North American Mission Board’s disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga.

“If you get into a disaster situation and you can’t communicate, you can get in trouble,” said Westerfield, who learned the craft more than 30 years ago.

After a long night of preparing generators and gas containers, they enjoyed a breakfast of pancakes, sausage links, cereal and coffee. Afterward, a red 18-wheeler and half a dozen other vehicles began the 215-mile trip to Thibodaux.

During the overall response to Gustav, Southern Baptists have deployed 41 feeding units to prepare and serve more than 500,000 meals to victims, first responders and volunteers in hurricane-affected areas and at regional shelters. Another 17 shower units have provided victims and workers with about 2,000 showers.

The 58 feeding and shower units are being staffed and mobilized by 21 state Southern Baptist conventions, including those in Alabama, Virginia Baptist Mission Board, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, Arkansas, Missouri, Ohio, Kansas/Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Baptist General Convention of Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

Heavy rains continue to hamper relief efforts. An Arkansas disaster relief team serving in Alexandria, La., awoke Wednesday morning to find their personal vehicles flooded and two inches of water in their food preparation kitchen unit. None of the equipment was damaged, but personal vehicles sustained water damage.

Meanwhile, SBC disaster relief personnel in the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and Florida already are planning for Hurricane Hanna, now hovering near the Bahamas but predicted to strike the East Coast this weekend.

To donate to Southern Baptists Disaster Relief efforts, visit www.namb.net or call toll-free 866-407-6262.
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission magazine at the North American Mission Board. Mickey Noah, a staff writer for the North American Mission Board contributed to this article.

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  • Adam Miller