As the first light rains from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew passed over South Florida Wednesday, Oct. 5, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief leaders were planning their response to the potentially devastating storm. Computer models give a high probability of a Category 4 hurricane with a massive storm surge making landfall late Thursday or early Friday somewhere near Palm Beach on Florida's east coast.
SBDR state leaders in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, along with national leaders at the North American Mission Board, have been meeting and mapping out rapid response in the storm's potential aftermath. All this while a full-scale response continues to south Louisiana flooding and long-term rebuild projects in multiple states from other disasters.
"We've been in close contact with our state partners and are preparing to help in any way we can," said Mickey Caison, executive director for NAMB's SBDR team. "The potential for harm to people and massive property damage is certainly a major concern. We began our first Matthew planning meeting, as we do all of our state partner meetings, in prayer."
Caison said SBDR leaders have begun dialogue with their counterparts with both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross to coordinate planning. Feeding units may be deployed to assist the large number of storm evacuees leaving coastal areas in advance of landfall.
"The potential of a mass feeding operation and then cleanup and recovery are concerns," Caison said.
"We could easily be looking at eight mass feeding sites in Florida alone with capacity of 300,000 meals per day," he noted. "We are also gauging our supply preparation and transportation for water, rolled roofing and other supplies we would need to truck in."
With highly populated coastal communities in the projected path, more than 2 million people have been encouraged to leave parts of Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. All three of those states' governors have declared states of emergency in advance of Matthew's arrival. Mandatory evacuations began in some South Florida communities Wednesday.
Hurricane Matthew is already blamed for the deaths of at least 50 people on Caribbean islands as it passed. The storm destroyed a bridge that serves as a major thoroughfare in Haiti's western region.
One forecast model even calls for Matthew to veer east and pull a 360 degree turn back into the U.S. East Coast. Regardless of the storm's path or level of destruction, Southern Baptist volunteers stand ready to activate immediately and provide critical aid in response to whatever Matthew brings.
NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state Disaster Relief ministries.
Southern Baptists have 65,000 trained volunteers -- including chaplains -- and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained Disaster Relief volunteers in the U.S., along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or visit donations.namb.net/dr-donations. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for "Disaster Relief."
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.