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Southern Baptists ministering amid Hurricane Floyd’s mounting tragedy

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WILSON, N.C. (BP)–More than 300,000 meals were served by Southern Baptists in four eastern states during the week after countless thousands were battered and flooded by Hurricane Floyd. A dozen feeding units from nine states continued to provide meals Sept. 24 in North and South Carolina, Virginia and New Jersey.
Relief workers expect flood waters to begin cresting during the week of Sept. 27 but not recede until mid-October when recovery operations can begin.
As Hurricane Floyd was still churning toward the East Coast, Southern Baptist disaster relief units from across the country already were mobilized and on their way to help.
“We left Kentucky on Wednesday morning as the storm was still creeping up the coastline,” said Larry Coch, feeding unit volunteer in Wilson, N.C., and member of Green Hills Baptist Church in Fishersville, Ky. “We loaded our feeding unit and drove to Atlanta to wait for the storm. By Thursday morning, Hurricane Floyd had hit the coast of North Carolina, so the American Red Cross moved us here to First Baptist, Wilson. We served our first meal to victims within 12 hours.”
Victims of Hurricane Floyd are receiving immediate assistance right in their own hometowns through the swift response of the Southern Baptist national disaster relief program, executed by Baptist state conventions and local associations, and coordinated by the North American Mission Board in conjunction with the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other organizations.
Currently, much of the relief effort is concentrated in eastern North Carolina, which was hardest hit by Hurricane Floyd’s ravaging winds and torrential rains. Nearly a week after the storm, more than 10,000 people were still in temporary shelters at public schools and community centers. High tides and swollen rivers combined with Floyd’s massive storm surge to flood entire cities. Waters rose to 30 feet above flood level in many areas, destroying lives, with a death toll of nearly 50 in North Carolina; crops, with an estimated $1 billion lost from the primary sector of the state’s economy; homes and businesses.
“We are suffering the worst disaster in the history of North Carolina,” said Gov. Jim Hunt. “Thousands of people have lost their homes, and thousands more don’t know what they’ll find when the water is gone. Right now our priority is saving lives and fulfilling basic human needs.” President Clinton visited the coast of North Carolina on Sept. 20, declaring two-thirds of the state a federal disaster area.
“Our first level of disaster relief is the emergency response,” said Mickey Caison, national disaster relief coordinator at the North American Mission Board. “This involves feeding people from our mobile kitchens and conducting temporary repairs to homes and buildings.” Southern Baptists also deploy child care, communications and water purification units.
One week after the storm, Baptist feeding units in nine North Carolina locations had served more than 300,000 meals. Volunteers have traveled from across the state, as well as Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri and Georgia, to prepare hot meals while Red Cross vehicles comb the flooded communities twice a day delivering the food.
“The Southern Baptists are wonderful,” said Phyllis Johnson, public affairs coordinator for the Red Cross in Wilmington, N.C., where the local Baptist feeding unit served nearly 50,000 meals in three days. “The Red Cross and the Southern Baptists work cooperatively in emergency feeding after natural disasters. The Baptists bring in their mobile kitchens and set them up in no time flat. And people are so grateful. We’ve even had requests for recipes!”
In the late 1960s, a group of Baptist men responded to a hurricane disaster on the Gulf Coast of Texas. They noticed other relief agencies assisting victims and knew that more could be done as a team. “Soon after, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention and several other relief organizations formed the National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster,” said Caison. “Over the years, we developed a strong relationship with the Red Cross and now work exclusively with them to provide food for victims within hours of a natural disaster.”
But Southern Baptist disaster relief extends beyond emergency feeding and repairs. Chain-saw crews and mud-out teams provide recovery relief, cleaning up after floods, cutting trees from homes and helping victims begin to rebuild their lives.
Two mud-out teams from the Baptist General Association of Virginia were sent to Franklin, Va., soon after the storm to help families dig out their homes. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to start working yet,” said Lloyd Jackson, disaster relief director for the Virginia convention. “The town was flooded so badly that hazardous materials leaked into the area and local authorities are waiting until it is safe to begin cleanup work. But we’ll be here when we’re needed.”
After making landfall in North Carolina, Hurricane Floyd pounded into the Northeast, causing extensive damage and hampering disaster relief efforts in northern Baptist state conventions as well. With three feet of water on the roads and hundreds of trees and power lines down, the Maryland/Delaware, New England, Pennsylvania/South Jersey and New York Baptist state conventions have been able to do little else except deploy their feeding unit to Somerville, N.J. Even though the city is nearly 600 miles from where Hurricane Floyd initially struck, 5,000 people sought meals the first day. “We hope to send clean-up crews soon,” said Terry Douglas, director of disaster relief at the Pennsylvania/South Jersey convention. “But right now the flooding is still too bad.”
Long-term recovery, in which volunteers help entire communities rebuild permanently, is the final phase of Southern Baptists disaster relief, Caison said. “With flood waters still high and thousands without clean water or power, it’s slow-going,” he said. “But we’re in this for the long haul. We’ll be here as long as it takes.”
Donations for Hurricane Floyd disaster relief efforts can be mailed to state Baptist conventions or the North American Mission Board, 4200 North Point Parkway, Alpharetta, GA 30022-4176.
For North Carolina, the mailing address for the Hurricane Floyd Disaster Relief fund established by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina is P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512. Checks can be made payable to the state convention and designated for the fund.

Martin King contributed to this article.

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