As Hurricane Gustav came ashore early Monday morning, September 1, and started making its way across Louisiana, Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers were already busy preparing meals for evacuees and standing by to move into storm ravaged areas.
In Louisiana, volunteers were preparing meals near an evacuation center in Shreveport. Baptists were also preparing meals at five evacuation sites in Texas, and units were active at evacuee sites in Louisville, Kentucky, Kingsport, Tennessee, and Fort Smith, Arkansas.
"We prepared two thousand meals for lunch today and another two thousand dinners," said Coy Webb, disaster relief associate for the Kentucky Baptist Association. "They told us to expect some additional evacuees as the week continues."
Evacuees were sheltered at the Kentucky state fairgrounds in the Expo Center, Webb said. The Baptist kitchen unit on site had the capacity to prepare up to ten thousand meals a day if needed.
In Arkansas, Southern Baptists prepared meals for evacuees being housed at Fort Chaffee near the city of Fort Smith the weekend before Gustav made landfall.
"We began setup Saturday and served 5,300 meals Sunday," said Robby Tingle, team leader for missions ministry at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Arkansas Baptist units also were set to head into Louisiana as soon as conditions were safe.
At NAMB's office in Alpharetta, Georgia, staff and volunteers manned phones Monday and kept in close touch with state Baptist conventions, the American Red Cross, FEMA, and other disaster relief partners.
"Nothing is more important for NAMB this week than supporting our state partners and volunteers who are working Disaster Relief," said Geoff Hammond, NAMB's president. "We've had employees working all day and some all night providing the logistical support needed to support the work of Southern Baptists in the field." Hammond asked Southern Baptists to "prayerfully consider" donating to NAMB's Disaster Relief fund. "The high price of diesel fuel and gasoline has made this a more costly response," he said.
According to Gibbie McMillan, Louisiana Baptists' Disaster Relief coordinator, the state convention was much better prepared this time than when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita came. "But," he added, "the damage is still major. The Red Cross and Salvation Army have requested Southern Baptists to prepare almost 400,000 meals per day at various locations [in Louisiana]. Louisiana Baptist teams are moving into place to assist, and teams from our partnering states are arriving to make a difference in the name of the Lord."
David E. Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana convention, said, "As we discover needs, we are confident that Southern Baptists will rally to help those in need. We are grateful for the disaster relief volunteers who are already on the job."
In Mississippi, relieved residents expressed gratitude that Gustav delivered only a glancing blow to the state. Three years earlier, Hurricane Katrina came ashore near Bay St. Louis and caused widespread destruction not seen since Hurricane Camille in 1969.
"No doubt, it could have been much worse," Jim Futrall, executive director of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, said of Gustav. But, Futrall noted, "Still there is destruction and loss across the Mississippi Gulf Coast."