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Crist declares state of emergency for Hurricane Ike

Florida Baptists note concern for Cuba, Haiti


JACKSONVILLE (FBC) – Only a few hours after Hanna bypassed the state, Florida Baptist disaster relief teams are ramping up for Hurricane Ike, which forecasters warn could land in South Florida as a Category 3 storm by Tuesday night.

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On Sept. 5, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency noting that that the National Hurricane Center is predicting a storm likely producing sustained hurricane winds exceeding 115 miles per hour, flash flooding and significant rainfall.

“We are making initial preparations for the potential strike of Ike on late Tuesday or Wednesday,” said Fritz Wilson, Florida Baptist Convention’s disaster relief director.

Throughout Friday, convention officials recruited South Florida churches to serve as locations to host feeding site and clean-up and recovery crews in the anticipated crisis area.

Disaster response equipment is being staged at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center in Leesburg, where it is can be refueled and readied to roll out when needed.

“Our teams are on alert and we are in the five-day preparation stage with staff and volunteers,” Wilson said.

Wilson said Florida Baptists were in constant communication with state emergency officials and other responding agencies. Florida Baptist Men’s Director Eddie Blackmon has been dispatched to Tallahassee to be stationed at the State Emergency Operations Center.

The convention is also organizing to provide an infrastructure to handle the influx of response volunteers and requests.

Wilson stressed that preparations at this time are a part of just being practical.

“Hurricane forecasters have a 1,200-mile margin of error,” Wilson said. “We will monitor what is happening and begin to make initial preparation. We are beginning to prepare, but cautious. We are not sure where we will be needed.”

Al Fernandez, director of South Florida Urban Impact Ministries center located in Hialeah, has been recruiting Miami area churches to determine where feeding units can be located after the storm hits.

“I have found a great response from our churches,” Fernandez reported.

“We are being prudent, not stressed," Fernandez continued. “Florida Baptists are engaged to make sure it doesn’t catch us by surprise.”

Several Convention-sponsored training events are scheduled at the South Florida Center during the week of Set. 8-12. Fernandez said a decision will be made at a later date if the sessions will continue.

South Florida’s theological classes, which meet at the Hialeah center, were cancelled this past week after Hurricane Gustav caused issues on the campus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. David Lema, director of the South Florida extension center, said a determination to cancel classes on Tuesday will be made at a later date. Students will be notified through the web and by phone if that happens, he said.

Earlier this week, hurricane windows were installed at the urban center.

“That is a blessing for us,” Lema said.

Several years ago, a hurricane damaged the library of the extension center, which had been located in Kendall.

“We lost a third of our books and precious materials, much of those were irreplaceable documents in Spanish and French,” Lema said.

Florida Baptists also are concerned about fellow Baptists in Cuba and Haiti, both of which are partnered with the state convention. Before Ike hits the states next week, it is expected to slam both Caribbean countries.

“Haiti is already saturated,” said Craig Culbreth, director of the Convention’s Partnership Missions Department, who just returned from the country after establishing a feeding program after the recent storms. “There is no place for the water to go. Places once dry are like lakes.

“I hope Florida Baptists will pray for that nation," Culbreth continued. "Pray that the water will recede in time.”

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.