By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
As Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief coordinators prepared to deploy teams to flood-stricken areas in Texas and Louisiana, they also kept a nervous eye on Hurricane Irma’s track through the Caribbean toward Florida.
“We have been keeping a very close eye on Hurricane Irma knowing that it will bring another set of challenges to Florida, the Atlantic coastal states and parts of Alabama,” Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), said on Sept. 7.
Mark Wakefield, SBOM disaster relief strategist, said on Sept. 8 that Irma “has the potential to significantly stretch our resources.”
“We must gear up for a lengthy response. Please encourage your people to prepare, be flexible and pray,” Wakefield wrote in an e-mail to SBOM personnel and associational leaders.
Wakefield said some Alabama DR resources will stay in Texas but most resources will transition from Harvey relief to Irma relief.
“The initial plan for Hurricane Irma has been to send our large kitchen to Florida along with appropriate support,” Wakefield said. “However, the models are increasingly bringing the storm track toward Alabama.”
Wakefield said SBOM leadership would be working together to assess needs in Alabama and neighboring states once Irma made landfall and moved north.
Florida Baptist Disaster Relief (FLDR) workers also were making plans for a post landfall response. As residents across the peninsula gathered supplies and began to evacuate, all FLDR volunteers were put on alert that a callout was coming. Florida Baptist Convention offices were readied to serve as a Disaster Operations Center and sites to house out-of-state DR teams were readied in Pensacola, Marianna, Tallahassee, Live Oak and Jacksonville. Feeding units were on standby with plans for eight strategically located kitchen sites. One projection anticipated the need for 288,000 to 320,000 meals.
One FLDR feeding team of volunteers had already deployed to Beaumont, Texas, to help in the DR effort following Hurricane Harvey. In anticipation of Irma’s landfall, all teams scheduled to go to Texas were asked to stand down, according to FLDR.
Forecasters called Irma the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded. The category 5 storm maintained sustained winds of 185 mph with higher gusts. At press time Sept. 8, Irma was expected to make landfall in southern Florida in the early hours of Sept. 10 as a Category 4 hurricane and track northward through the center of the state. Most of Florida was expected to take a direct hit, with much of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina affected by tropical storm force wind and rain Sunday night through Tuesday.
Unlike in Houston, where power mostly remained on as flood waters rose, damage in Florida is expected to include widespread power outages, damage to roofs and buildings and localized flooding. Power crews from neighboring states were already on standby last week as officials waited to see when and where Irma would make landfall.
Irma caused massive damage as it passed through the Caribbean. At least nine deaths were reported as of Sept. 7 and the island of Barbuda was all but destroyed by the storm. With disaster relief teams from Baptist state conventions and the North American Mission Board focused on Texas, Louisiana, Florida and the Southeast, Baptist Global Response (BGR), a Southern Baptist partner, said it would focus primarily on relief efforts outside the U.S.
“We are in initial conversations with NAMB and the Florida Baptist Convention (representatives) who have work/ministry assignments for Puerto Rico, Hispanola, etc.,” BGR CEO Jeff Palmer told Baptist Press. “We are trying to find the best ways to work to maximize resources for the needed Caribbean response.”
Alabama DR also plans to have a presence in the Caribbean, Wakefield said. Plans to send Alabama’s airlift kitchen with a team for up to two weeks was still on track as of Sept. 8. If possible, a small chainsaw team with supplies was going to Puerto Rico for several days.
For information on how to pray, give and serve, visit sbdr.org/hurricanerelief.