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With rain in Calif., snow in Nev., disaster relief workers gear up

LOS ANGELES (BP)–California Southern Baptist relief teams were put into action Jan. 11 to aid flood victims after three back-to-back heavy rainstorms pelted the southern portion of the state.

Ten people, including a mother and three children, have been pulled from a mudslide in a small coastal town of La Conchita, south of Santa Barbara and 70 miles northwest of Los Angeles, with many other residents still missing, according to the Associated Press Jan. 12.

Scott Harrell, pastor of Ojaii Valley Baptist Church in Ojaii, was called the morning of Jan. 12 to minister to families in the community, where the mudslide was a byproduct of the string of storms that, so far, have been blamed for 25 deaths across the state.

“We’ve had volunteer chaplains here since it happened and it was my turn,” said Harrell, a volunteer chaplain with the Ventura County Law Enforcement Agency, who, at the disaster site provides counseling and helps diffuse such situations as residents wanting to return to get their belongings before it is safe to do so. He was scheduled to stay at the site overnight.

“It’s going really slow,” Harrell said of the recovery efforts. “But there are still pockets in the mud, so there is hope.” He asked for prayers for the victims’ families and for no further mudslides in the community.

Thousands of residents were evacuated over the weekend due to threats of overflowing riverbeds and creeks, while hundreds more experienced flooding. Meanwhile, thousands of others who were evacuated are just now returning to their homes to assess any damage.

“We’re setting up a small ‘fixed kitchen’ site at First Baptist Newhall for up to 300 meals a day,” said Don Hargis, director of the California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. “We’re still waiting to hear how we can help.”

Because the search and rescue efforts are in progress, disaster relief teams are not allowed near the site, Hargis said.

“The meals we make will be driven to people in the surrounding area who have been affected,” Hargis said. “The Red Cross asked us to do this and they will have emergency rescue vehicles deliver the hot meals, although we’ll be allowed to ride along.”

Many of the main roads are closed due to mudslides, flooding and debris on the road.

Currently the relief effort is “on a small scale,” Hargis said. “But we’re prepared to help a lot more.”

As soon as fire and rescue crews allow homeowners in the La Conchita mudslide area back in, Hargis will have a crew ready to help with cleanup and recovery. “We’re just waiting right now,” he said. Harrell asked that people pray for the families who have lost loved ones and that no more of the hillside will come down.

Downtown Los Angeles recorded its wettest 15 consecutive days since recordkeeping began in 1877, with a total of 17 inches of rain falling in the period ending Monday, Jan. 10, according to the National Weather Service.

A warning on the NWS website cautioned, “Flooding is still a possibility, especially near rivers and streams.”

On Monday morning, pastor Bill Newton, his wife and two children were shaken by a noise as loud as a freight train. They ran out the front door and watched as seven feet of mud surrounded three sides of their parsonage at First Baptist Casita Springs, a small town between Ventura and Ojai with 1,100 people. “It just came down all at once,” said Newton, who has pastored the church for seven years. “My son was scared stiff.” The actual foundation of the home shifted with the impact, he said.

The Newtons, who are now living in their 33-foot travel trailer with their two cats, have been helped by pastors in the Gold Coast Baptist Association.

“They came in and helped us pack up as much as we could and we are storing it in the church right now,” Newton said. Newton learned that the homeowners insurance doesn’t cover earth-movement disasters, which leaves them without a home.

Expecting another storm next week and a worse one than the last at the end of the month, Newton is not sure what to do. “We’re surviving,” he said.

Pastor Jack Conner, who was evacuated from his Fillmore mobile home park along with some other 600 mostly elderly residents, returned to his home Jan. 11.

“Some of the elderly were rushed to the emergency room because of the excitement but so far there hasn’t been any damage to our homes that I can see,” said Conner, who pastors First Baptist Church in Fillmore.

But the church property had leaking roofs and some water damage.

“We knew the roof needed to be repaired and we were waiting for a loan from the bank so that we could repair it,” said Conner, 72. “The rain beat us before the loan was approved.”

First Baptist Church of Beverly Hills will have to do some repairs after their fellowship hall in the basement of their facility was flooded.

And Pastor Marty Souter of Set Free Yucaipa has begun drying out his home in Calimesa after water came in through the cabinets in his kitchen over the weekend.

“The rain washed the dirt foundation away from the house and started leaking in,” said Souter, who got the call from his wife Robin. “As soon as I got home, some friends and his two sons started helping me sandbag the house. A little [water] came through the front door but mostly under the new kitchen cabinets and into my boy’s rooms.”

Souter used an evacuator in his backyard that pumps water out and places it elsewhere in order to keep more water from flooding his home.


In Reno, Nev., more than three feet of snow has temporarily kept Fellowship Community Church from holding services.

“We haven’t had church for two weeks,” said Pastor Frank Bushey. “There was three feet of snow and we couldn’t get into the building we rent.”

Because of the speed and amount of snow over the past couple of weeks, Bushey said the roads could not be cleared fast enough.

“I still need a four-wheel drive to get to my house because the snow is still there,” said Bushey, who has been stuck in his vehicle in the snow three times as a result of the snowstorms. “Many of our members are getting cabin fever but they have shown the real Christian spirit and called each other.”

A church closure is not common, he said.

“This is unprecedented,” said Bushey, a lifelong Reno resident. “The snow was so fast and furious, I’ve never experienced it like this.”

So far the snowfall has not damaged any church property in the area but has hurt the attendance and budgets of many churches.

“Several of our churches were way down in attendance for the past two weeks and it affects the finances of the church,” said Edie Miller, director of missions for the Sierra Baptist Association. “That will be the real damage we’ll have to face.”

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  • Kelli Cottrell