PENSACOLA (FBW)—It only took several hours of intense rain for the lives of thousands of Florida Panhandle residents to be disrupted during the late evening and early morning hours of April 29 and 30.
And it didn’t take much longer than that for Florida Baptist Disaster Relief teams to lead cleanup efforts to the devastated areas.
As teams of rescue workers descended on Pensacola, where Hillcrest Baptist Church was used as a staging area, they soon realized the monumental task before them: More than 1,200 homes had been destroyed and another 800 were damaged.
Some families lost only a few tree limbs, had some basement carpeting ruined or had minor roof leakage. But others lost all of their earthly possessions.
Some parts of the Panhandle received more than 22 inches of rain in about a 12-hour period, wiping out streets and flooding cars. Olive Baptist Church, one of the largest in the area, suffered major damage to its worship center.
Breanna Riddell, a student at the University of West Florida, was on her way home from the university when she got stuck in traffic. Water had already begun to creep up the sides of the roads, and before she realized it her car had flooded and she found herself stranded on the side of the road in the middle of the storm. She was picked up by someone in a passing car and taken back to the university, where she ended up spending the night.
Meanwhile, Riddell’s parents, Jim and Sandy, and her five siblings—Kaitlyn, Seth, Jasmine, Jared and Danica—were all in their Bristol Park home going about their normal evening routines when the storm hit. It didn’t take long for them to notice water was seeping into their house.
The water rose quickly, and before long the whole family had to evacuate. They left the house with nothing but Sandy Riddell’s purse and a few cell phones. By that time their cars and street had flooded, and they ended up waiting out the storm on the roof of their destroyed home, clinging to branches to keep from being swept away by the raging waters.
Breanna was the only one not home, and she was not able to reach her parents until about 4:30 the next morning. “It was brutal” she says, discussing how she felt not knowing if her family was safe. “I couldn’t make it home, [the weather] was too bad. I was trying to get home.”
The Riddell family lost everything they owned—their cars, home, and everything inside. Like many other families in the area they did not have flood insurance—away from the beach and on high ground, the area has never needed it.
Like many other families in the Panhandle, the Riddells’ road to recovery won’t be easy.
And yet, in the midst of the turmoil, they have hope.
The Riddells are members of Hillcrest Baptist Church, where Florida Baptist Disaster Relief workers, under the auspices of the Florida Baptist Convention, were soon ready to administer aid.
In Pensacola, Disaster Relief teams have been working since the day after the storm hit. Teams from all over the state of Florida have answered the call for help, and more than 456 volunteers have come to serve primarily in clean up and recovery, removing flooded items, taking out sheet rock and mold mitigation. They have served more than 2,545 meals, done 125 loads of laundry, and provided more than 300 showers. The teams have been kept busy with the 494 job requests from around the community, completing 102 of them and tirelessly working to get to the others.
While the flood was severe and impact of the Florida Baptist Disaster Relief teams has been significant, FBDR Director Delton Beall says there is still much work to do. All Florida regions have been activated, and residents trained in disaster relief are urged to contact their units or regional coordinator for information on how to help.
The Riddell family experienced total loss, something they never thought they would have to endure. But they responded to the crisis with grace and compassion—the whole family has been helping with the relief effort throughout their neighborhood, humbly accepting help when they need it as well. Their entire house had to be gutted, and instead of crying out they hung a banner on the side of their house with one simple word printed on it: “Endurance.”
The disaster also has given Southern Baptists the opportunity to point those in need to the only One who is able to make all things new. Disaster Relief teams have handed out 73 bibles, established 175 ministry contacts and presented the gospel 75 times, with two people already having prayed to receive Christ.
If you would like to support the efforts of the FBDR teams in Pensacola they are asking for prayer, financial gifts and volunteers. For information on volunteering, call 850.361.4717. For donations or more information, visit www.flbaptistdisaster.org.
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