Florida Baptist Disaster Relief stages as hurricane slams state

(Screen capture from The Guardian)With Florida Gov. Rick Scott warning Hurricane Matthew "will kill you, time is running out," an estimated 1.5 million people evacuated Florida's Atlantic coast communities as the storm skirted the shore today (Oct. 7).

"The scope of impact goes from Port St. Lucie north to the Georgia line," said Delton Beall, Florida Baptists' director of disaster relief.

Florida Baptist Disaster Relief is working with the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee and other partners to meet feeding, cleanup and recovery and other needs. Volunteers are staged throughout the state readying equipment, loading supplies and coordinating logistics of moving into the affected areas when emergency restrictions are lifted.

Florida's two feeding units are staging at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center near Leesburg in Central Florida. "We have been requested to stage nine mobile kitchens with a target goal of 230,000 meals," Beall said.

Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, voiced appreciation for the work of the FBDR volunteers who are mobilizing across the state "and the hundreds of others who are waiting to respond."

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley joined Scott in issuing states of emergency and mandatory evacuations of about 3.1 million people and have encouraged others to leave the storm's path. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory urged residents to be ready to evacuate if necessary, as heavy rainfall, storm surge and dangerous conditions are predicted over the next three days.

The National Hurricane Center projected Matthew would charge 500 miles up the northeast coast and birth storm surges as high as 10 feet, even if the eye stays offshore.

Without making landfall, the Category 3 hurricane with winds averaging 115 miles per hour resulted in power outages for nearly 1 million as daylight brought damage assessments along the storm's path beginning in Palm Beach County.

The storm is blamed for one death in the U.S., that of a Florida woman said to be in her late 50s who suffered cardiac arrest and died before St. Lucie Fire Department officials, facing 68 mph winds, could reach her, ABC News reported. The hurricane already had killed hundreds in Haiti and the Caribbean.

News reports throughout the day indicate the continuing winds are causing property damage throughout the region.

Meanwhile, Florida Baptists are beginning preparations to provide relief to Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, devastated by Matthew while still trying to recover from a tragic earthquake six years ago. The state convention has had a partnership with the Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste de Haiti (CMBH) for the past two decades.

"Although the largest population center in Haiti, Port-au-Prince, escaped major damage from Hurricane Matthew, the southern areas of Haiti were devastated," said Craig Culbreth, catalyst for the convention's missions and ministries team. "There [has] been loss of life, loss of buildings and just general destruction of animals and gardens. It is those animals and gardens that the Haitians depend so heavily on for daily provisions." Culbreth expects to travel to Haiti on Saturday.

The Florida convention, in partnership with CMBH, already has supplied rice and water for the hardest-hit areas in Haiti. "We will formulate our overall response after sending in an assessment team in the next few days," Culbreth said.

CMBH ministry director DeLouis LaBranche has been in contact with pastors in the affected southwest region of Haiti near Les Cayes. "About 100 to 200 churches lost their roofs, 5,000 houses lost their roofs, 2,000 houses flooded, and nine people died in [the] locality of Cavaillon," LaBranche said. In other areas, as many as 20,000-30,000 lost their homes, he said.

In Georgia, where Deal has issued a mandatory evacuation for six coastal counties and a voluntary evacuation for others, Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief is urging volunteers to pray for the affected areas and begin collecting and packaging 5-gallon Buckets for Care with safety equipment, tools, first aid and other items. Instructions are available at http://missiongeorgia.org/georgia-disaster-relief.

South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief (SBC DR) units, while still helping residents recover from 2015 flooding, are preliminarily arranging a feeding trailer to serve a special medical needs shelter in Spartanburg.

"After the storm, we anticipate the need for virtually all other types of units," a SBC DR Oct. 6 press release stated. "Therefore, all SCB DR volunteers are being placed on ALERT status for a response to this disaster. Alert status means your unit WILL be needed, so make efforts to clear your schedule, contact your Unit Leader about your availability, and be ready to deploy. If the storm does not cause significant damage in our state, our units will likely be needed to assist Florida."

As Haley expanded the mandatory evacuation area Oct. 6, SBC DR urged churches to minister in their communities as they are able. The Lexington Baptist Association, for instance, has arranged for churches to provide ministry in each of the three shelters open in the association's territory. The Columbia Metro Baptist Association has arranged for a church to serve as a "warehouse site" for donations and distributions, the SBC DR press release said.

Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina are sending DR units to Florida, with churches in Pensacola, Tallahassee and Lake City serving as host sites. Beall expects the feeding units to be partially operational by Oct. 10 and fully operational two days later.

There is concern, Beall stressed, that Hurricane Matthew may circle back to the state and cause operational feeding units to retreat to non-affected areas. Florida's temporary child care volunteers have been stationed at Putnam County Medical Center in Palatka, caring for children of nurses and hospital employees who have been called to work during the storm.

Other volunteers are on standby and have been asked to report to their regional coordinators. Cleanup and recovery crews, emergency response teams, chaplains, administration and logistic volunteers are expected to be deployed when the storm passes.

Several states DR ministries are accepting donations. Donate to Florida at http://flbaptist.org/disaster-relief-donations/; South Carolina at http://www.scbaptist.org/disaster-relief-donations/; Georgia at http://gabaptist.org/shop/disaster-relief-donation/; and North Carolina at http://baptistsonmission.org/missions/by-type/disaster-relief/Hurricane-Matthew/donations.

Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention; Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP (bpnews.net) reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.

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