Roger Kimrey, Andy Tipton and Eddie Potter from Gadsden Baptist Association plan disaster relief strategies.
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JACKSONVILLE (FBC)—Less than two weeks after Tropical Storm Fay saturated the state from the Florida Keys to Pensacola, Florida Baptists stood ready for the possible threat of another storm as the Witness went to press Aug. 29.
In the wake of Fay’s torrential rains that left downed trees and flood waters across the state, Hurricane Gustav threatened the state’s west coast as it blew into the Gulf of Mexico.
“While Gustav is set to make landfall in Louisiana or Mississippi, we are monitoring the situation closely as it could turn our direction,” said Fritz Wilson, director of the Florida Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief and Recovery Department. “We are still as prepared and ready as we would be for any other storm.”
Disaster relief leaders began contacting Florida Baptist associations west of the Apalachicola River Aug. 28 to ready them should Gustav turn.
Wilson, who has been communicating extensively with the state’s Emergency Operations Center, cautions that another storm, even weak, could cause serious damage throughout the state.
“A less intense storm could cause more damage than it typically would because the ground is so saturated from the rains brought through by Fay,” said Wilson. “In terms of tree damage, under these conditions a category one storm would cause damage equal to a category two storm.”
While some areas in Brevard County were still receiving local assistance in repairing the damage from Fay, all other disaster relief teams had returned home to prepare for the next storm.
In case Gustav continued on to Louisiana or Mississippi, Florida Baptists were prepared to come to their aid, said Wilson. Three years ago, almost to the day, Florida’s teams traveled to Louisiana to minister to those whose lives were decimated by Hurricane Katrina.
“Facing people who are in the most desperate need of their lives, you can’t be a Christ-follower and not be swamped by the need,” said Cecil Seagle, director of the Convention’s Missions Division who oversees the disaster operations.
Seagle said Convention’s staff personnel will be called out if Gustav does damage in Florida, but as of Aug. 30, according to a memo circulated by Florida Baptist Disaster Relief, all Florida units were on stand down and would not respond out of state to Hurricane Gustav due to the threat of Tropical Storm Hanna.
Florida’s needs following Fay were ministered to on a local level throughout the state. Working under Wilson’s leadership, disaster relief teams responded mainly in the Brevard County and Tallahassee areas, pulling in regional association teams as needed.
Employing a new strategy for the 2008 Hurricane Season to better utilize resources and reach communities, Florida Baptists’ 5,500 trained disaster relief volunteers were divided into the same seven regions as those designated by the state’s Emergency Operations Center.
Each region has leaders who are assigned to relate directly to that area’s emergency personnel. Under the new system, these units are not called out of their regions unless the storm damage is too extensive for one area to repair alone
“The new system allows for better communication,” said State Cleanup Coordinator Leon Branch. “It changed the way we respond, helping us to work much more effectively and better touch the lives of people in a disaster.”
Dennis Belz, director of missions for the Halifax Baptist Association, reported that in the Daytona Beach area teams helped tarp the roofs of an elderly man recovering from a stroke and a blind woman. “The new system kept us closer to our own community, ministering right here at home,” said Belz.
In the Panhandle, teams in the Chipola Association worked to remove downed trees.
“Through disaster relief we are showing that we are kind and compassionate, reaching out and helping those in need,” said Coba Beasley, director of missions for the association based in Miramar. “So many of our communities get closed off and forget to do that. It is important for not only Florida Baptists but Southern Baptists to be neighbors helping neighbors.”
Two Baptist churches that reported flood-related damages during Fay, the First Baptist Church of Cocoa and Thomas Creek Baptist Church in Jacksonville, worked with Disaster Relief in helping to restore their churches. In addition, financial assistance is sometimes offered when churches need it.
“We are ready to help pastors with financial needs created by the storm,” said John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention.
Branch said the need sometimes is immediate, but sometimes can last awhile.
“We are looking at long-term recovery, addressing the needs reported locally and by the state. We will stay until we have done our due diligence in meeting the needs of those hurting following Fay,” said Branch, using the recent story as an example.
Florida Baptist Disaster Relief not only includes trained volunteers but two mobile feeding units capable of producing a combined 35,000 meals a day; 70 debris removal and temporary repair units; two emergency childcare units; one communications units; three generator trailer units; two water purification units; one mobile medical unit; and eight shower and laundry units. Strategically located throughout the state, these units are prepared to respond on a local or national level.
Volunteers are denoted by the color of their hat. Yellow hats are worn by basic trained volunteers and blue hats denote unit directors.
The next training event for these units is Sept. 27 at The Baptist College of Florida. While the Graceville school is using the training to create their own disaster relief team, the training event is open to all Florida Baptists interested in this ministry. Cost for the training is $25. For more information, call 800-226-8584, ext. 3121.
Financial contributions for disaster relief efforts may be sent to the Florida Baptist Convention, Business Services, P.O. Box 5579, Jacksonville, FL 32247. Checks should be made payable to the Florida Baptist Convention. Please designate on your check which relief effort you are donating to.
To make a credit card donation using Visa, MasterCard or Discover, please call 800-226-8584, ext. 3049. When calling, be ready to provide the following information: gift amount; credit card number; expiration date; first and last name as it appears on the card; billing address including city, state and zip code; E-mail and phone number.
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