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2008 Disasters

Lead Story from the October 9, 2008, Baptist Record

“Miss. Baptists still on hurricane response”

Getting Started photo

GETTING STARTED — Dixie Kennedy (right) and David Warren mix the ingredients for homemade chili in a commercial tilt skillet at Maplewood Church in Sulphur, La. The pair was part of the first Mississippi Baptist team to enter the area damaged by Hurricane Ike to prepare hot meals for victims, first responders, and relief workers. (Photo by William H. Perkins Jr.)

By William H. Perkins Jr. Editor

Mississippi Baptist disaster relief volunteers continue to staff a large feeding unit in Sulphur, La., west of Lake Charles near the Texas border, in order to provide much-needed hot meals for Hurricane Ike victims, first responders, and relief workers.

Jim Didlake, Men’s Ministry director for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB) and disaster relief coordinator for Mississippi Baptists, said a second team has been sent to Maplewood Church in Sulphur to staff a Louisiana Baptist Convention mass feeding unit on the scene there.

“Since the Louisiana Baptist unit was already there and capable of preparing as many meals as we could possibly prepare, the decision was made to staff that unit with Mississippi Baptist volunteers rather than rolling our feeding unit all the way over there,” Didlake said.

The first Mississippi Baptist team consisted of 15 volunteers and was headed up by Vernon Boteler, a member of Briar Hill Church, Florence. The second team, presently on the scene in Sulphur, has ten volunteers and is being led by Gene Williamson, a member of Cumberland Church, Maben.

There are also a number of Mississippi Baptist “mud-out” crews in the areas hardest hit by Ike, Didlake said. A partial list includes crews from Calhoun, Yalobusha, Gulf Coast, Lauderdale, Jackson, and North Central Associations.

Three shower units from Briar Hill Church, Florence, Lafayette Association, and Jackson Association are also in the hurricane area, he added.

Don Gann, consultant in the MBCB Men’s Ministry Department, recently returned from a stint as incident commander for all Southern Baptist operations in the Galveston, Texas, area.

“The people of Galveston are working hard to come back from the storm, and Southern Baptists are supporting them in a number of ways including mud-out units and mega-feeding units.”

Gann said mega-feeding units combine the volunteers and equipment from several Southern Baptist disaster relief units to form a massive feeding operation capable of preparing meals in multiples of what a single unit could accomplish.

A large mega-feeding unit based at First Church in Houston, Texas, is providing over 50,000 hot meals per day, Gann said.

Filling It Up photo

FILLING IT UP — Bobby Kennedy fills a commercial tilt skillet with one of many gallon-size cans of beans for the large batch of homemade chili being made by Mississippi Baptists at Maplewood Church in Sulphur, La., in response to Hurricane Ike’s devastation. Mississippi Baptist disaster relief officials estimate that Mississippi Baptists have prepared over 30,000 meals while serving in southwest Louisiana. (Photo by William H. Perkins Jr.)

To date, Southern Baptists have prepared nearly four million meals in response to Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, according to figures released by the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., which coordinates Southern Baptist disaster relief efforts.

“I had 50 years’ worth of stuff in my house, and now it’s all sitting in the street,” said Mary Meade of Galveston, waving a glove-covered hand at the pile of debris behind her.

Meade and her sister evacuated to Trinity, Texas, before Ike’s Sept. 13 landfall. “My sister wanted to stay, but I begged her to leave.” Their brother Robert stayed behind to ride out the storm. Water from the surge filled his house within an hour.

“He had to start swimming as the waters rose almost to the ceiling of his house,” Meade said. “His dog, Sir Guy, was in the garage swimming for his life. Thank goodness Robert was able to save him. Robert and Sir stayed in the attic without food or water for three or four days after the storm.” They were finally rescued by the National Guard.

Having lived her life on the island, Meade said she’s wanted to leave for several years. “Maybe now I can convince my brother and sister to move.”

Meade went back to her futile search as workers with their claw-like machines began filling trucks with debris just a few doors down.

“Galveston will come back,” said Randall Dowdell, a surfer riding along the sea wall on his bike. Dowdell moved to Galveston only eight weeks prior to Ike. He rode out the storm in the cab of his truck and is lucky to be alive. “The winds were really strong, the pressure blew out the windows,” he said.

“This was the happiest place of my childhood and that of my children. We vacationed here a lot,” Dowdell said, pointing to the sun-bathed beach now dotted with warning signs. “It may take a while, but the island will come back from this.”

First Church, Galveston, has begun to have services again. Last week they met in a local funeral home. This Sunday they hope to start meeting in the chapel that was built in memory of 44 church members who lost their lives in the storm of 1900.

“I don’t guess we’ll have our praise band,” Pastor Ray Meador said with a quiet laugh, “since we don’t have electricity.”

Baptist Press contributed to this article.

Lead Story from the September 18, 2008, Baptist Record

“Mississippi team headed to Ike area”

Hurricane Help photo

HURRICANE HELP — A mission team from First Church, Gulfport, assists in a North Carolina Baptist Men distribution of meals reflecting the love of Jesus to residents who weathered Hurricane Gustav in Houma, La. Southern Baptist disaster relief teams are now headed into Texas and Louisiana in response to Hurricane Ike. (BP photo courtesy of James Edward Bates)

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP and special reports) — More than one million hot meals have been prepared by Southern Baptist disaster relief teams since Hurricane Gustav hit the Louisiana coast on September 1 and Hurricane Ike clobbered Galveston and Houston on the morning of September 13.

In the wake of Ike, more than 100 Southern Baptist disaster relief units were heading into the Texas Gulf Coast September 15. Once there, Baptists from about 20 state conventions working with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army will prepare and serve another 410,000 meals per day for evacuees, victims, and volunteers.

Jim Didlake, men’s ministry director for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and Mississippi Baptists’ disaster relief coordinator, said Septemeber 16 that the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force has dispatched an initial mass feeding team to Lake Charles, La., which was hit hard by Gustav and suffered a glancing blow from Ike.

“When they arrive, they will make an assessement on whether we will roll our mass feeding unit or take over the meal preparation at the site of the Louisiana Baptist feeding unit,” Didlake said.

The Mississippi Baptist mass feeding unit is a fully self-contained eighteen-wheeler capable of preparing thousands of meals per day. It is staffed by Mississippi Baptist volunteers and supported by gifts to the Maragret Lackey State Missions Offering.

The Mississippi Baptist mass feeding unit was activated after Gustav cut power to a wide swath of southwest Mississippi and downed thoudands of trees. The unit prepared over over 28,000 meals from the parking lot of First Church, Natchez.

Didlake reported that a six-man volunteer chainsaw team from Yalobusha Association in Water Valley is presently working in Houma, La., which also received a double blow from Gustav and Ike.

“When our feeding units get in and set up today, we expect to do significant feeding in Texas beginning Tuesday,” said Mickey Caison, director of disaster relief for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in Alpharetta, Ga.

Just since Ike struck the Galveston and Houston areas Saturday morning, Texas Baptists have served more than 50,000 meals at feeding sites in Marshall, Bryan, and San Antonio.

Three “mega” feeding centers will be set up in League City, Baytown, and at Houston’s First Church, Caison reported. The three mega feeding units alone will serve more than 80,000 meals a day.

Ten other Texas cities or towns — venues identified as “places of need” by either the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) or the Texas Baptist Men — are under consideration as potential feeding sites in southeast Texas. Caison said most of the Texas-based units moved into place and went into operation on Sunday.

Caison noted that some of the units are having to wait on the search and rescue operations to be completed. Then roads must be cleared before law enforcement will allow the evacuees back to their homes.

“We want to go in and get set up before the evacuees come back home. That would expedite our process. We just ask our churches to be patient,” Caison said. “We know they’re eager to get in and start helping.”

Caison noted that Ike also dumped torrential rain as it moved into the Midwest, causing serious flooding in Chicago and other parts of Illinois as well as Ohio and Indiana. “The impact of the hurricane is continuing to be felt in those areas and will be for days to come,” Caison said.

Caison announced that many disaster relief teams stationed in Louisiana have been released, including teams from New Mexico, Kansas/Nebraska, Arkansas, Arizona, and Ohio. Some of these teams will go home, others will go to Texas. “Some need to go home and rest. Others need to go back to repair equipment,” Caison said. “When you consider the ice storms back in the winter, floods in the spring, and now the hurricanes, it’s been a long hard year for disaster relief in the SBC.”

In addition to the 1,000,000-plus meals provided since Gustav, Southern Baptist disaster relief also has completed 565 chainsaw and 18 mud-out jobs; provided more than 17,000 showers and 2,600 laundry loads; and recorded 11,368 ministry contacts, including 1,305 chaplaincy contacts, 135 Gospel presentations, and 94 professions of faith.

Southern Baptist volunteers have begun clearing trees and debris in the piney woods of East Texas, but the physical damage to churches along the Gulf Coast was harder to assess just after the storm. The Galveston and Bay City areas near Houston were without electricity and phone service.

Ike’s destructive swath was “catastrophic,” said Jim Richardson, SBTC disaster relief director, spreading its damage east of Galveston into Louisiana and north into deep East Texas along much of the same area that Hurricane Rita devastated in September 2005.

“We have cleanup and recovery teams in the field right now. We’re assessing damage in East Texas. We have all of our DR (disaster relief) units out. Texas Baptist Men has all of theirs out,” Richardson said.

“Our teams are feeding, doing cleanup and assessment, or providing for chaplaincy needs. The shelters are still very active. We have immediate need of volunteers for mud-out and chainsaw work.”

Attempts by the Texan, the SBTC news journal, to reach churches along the Gulf Coast were mostly unsuccessful.

Lead Story from the September 11, 2008, Baptist Record

“Gustav wraps up, Ike prep ramps up”

Cooking for Thousands photo

COOKING FOR THOUSANDS — Sandy Day, a member of Tylertown Church, Tylertown, stirs a large tilt skillet of beef stew September 4 at the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force’s mass feeding unit at First Church, Natchez. The mass feeding unit, which was activated after Hurricane Gustav knocked out power across southwest Mississippi and left many people unable to prepare food, served approximately 18,300 meals before shutting down on September 6. A smaller feeding unit from Briar Hill Church, Florence, served about 4,500 additional meals from their location at Diamondhead Church, Diamondhead. (Photo by William H. Perkins Jr.)

By William H. Perkins Jr. Editor

Mississippi Baptist disaster relief volunteers prepared more than 22,500 meals in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav for residents of southwest Mississippi who were without electricity for several days after the storm – and they remain on alert as Hurricane Ike bears down on the Gulf Coast region.

The Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force’s mass feeding unit prepared 18,300 meals from the parking lot of First Church, Natchez, while a smaller feeding unit from Briar Hill Church, Florence, prepared about 4,200 meals at Diamondhead Church, Diamondhead.

Both units started cooking on September 3 and closed operations on September 6. The Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force’s mass feeding unit utilized 21 trained volunteers, while the Briar Hill Church unit had 12 trained volunteers on site.

The meals were distributed primarily in Adams and Wilkinson Counties, where significant damage and long-term power outages led to the need for the feeding units, said Jim Didlake, men’s ministry director for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board in Jackson and Mississippi Baptists’ disaster relief coordinator.

Chain saw teams comprising 16 volunteers from Yalobusha Association in Coffeeville and Calhoun Association in Calhoun City were also activated in the Natchez area, Didlake said, along with a shower unit and two volunteers from Lafayette Association in Oxford.

Donna Swarts, a member of Goodwater Church, Magee, and current president of the Mississippi Woman’s Missionary Union, served as liaison to the American Red Cross.

“It was our first time to go into that part of the state with feeding units, and I would say it was a good response both for us and for the people who live in the area. It was an opportunity for a lot of Mississippi Baptists to see their Margaret Lackey State Missions Offering dollars at work,” Didlake said.

Serving Others photo

SERVING OTHERS — Members of an 11-person crew from First Church, Gulfport, help the North Carolina Baptist Men prepare meals last week for Hurricane Gustav victims at the Civic Center in Houma, La. Mass feeding units from around the Southern Baptist Convention — including the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief unit — were activated along the Gulf Coast after Gustav came ashore in the Houma area. (Photo courtesy of James Edward Bates)

Gifts to the Margaret Lackey State Missions Offering help finance a number of missions opportunities for Mississippi Baptists, including the disaster relief program.

Didlake said all Mississippi Baptist disaster relief units remain on alert as Hurricane Ike entered the Gulf of Mexico at publication deadline. “We’ll stay prepared, even though the predicted tracks take the storm into southwest Louisiana or Texas,” he said.

Didlake also said Garaywa Camp and Conference Center, the Mississippi Woman’s Missionary Union camp in Clinton that has served as a staging area for out-of-state Baptist disaster relief units on their way to Louisiana after Gustav, is being prepared to shelter those out-of-state volunteers if it becomes necessary to evacuate south Louisiana ahead of Ike.

“We are looking at a (Hurricane) Rita-like strike which is reminiscent of three years ago,” Mickey Caison, the North American Mission Board’s adult volunteer mobilization team leader and director of operations at the Southern Baptist Disaster Operations Center, told Baptist Press on September 8.

“We are developing an evacuation plan where they will be brought out of the possible impact area and then re-established after Ike goes through,” he said.

Caison told Baptist Press he is concerned about fatigue among the volunteers. “We are looking at whether we are going to be able to mobilize enough people. What we are looking at now is mobilizing from farther away.

“For instance, Louisiana is running out of volunteers. We’re going to have to bring in volunteers from other states to support the Louisiana kitchens and so as we are beginning to develop that plan, how we are going to do that effectively and efficiently is our concern now.”

The 2008 hurricane season has also been an expensive one for the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force, and contributions are being accepted to assist in the hurricane relief effort. Checks can be made payable to Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and designated to Hurricane Relief on the memo line. Contributions can be mailed the MBCB Business Office, Hurricane Relief, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530.

Lead Story from the September 4, 2008, Baptist Record

“Miss. Baptists on scene of Gustav”

Rainy But Ready photo

RAINY BUT READY – Terry Jones (left), national communications coordinator for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and a member of Blackshear Church in Flowery Branch, Ga., talks with Terry Henderson (center), national disaster relief director for the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., and Tom Westerfield, communications coordinator for the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s disaster relief unit and a member of First Church, Hopkinsville, Ky., on September 2 at Garaywa Camp and Conference Center in Clinton. Disaster relief units from across the Southern Baptist Convention are utilizing Garaywa as a staging area for post-Hurricane Gustav disaster relief along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. (Photo by William H. Perkins Jr.)

By William H. Perkins Jr. Editor

A Mississippi Baptist disaster relief assessment team was on the Gulf Coast hours after Hurricane Gustav raked the state on Labor Day on its way to landfall southwest of New Orleans.

Jim Didlake, director of men’s ministry for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB) in Jackson and Mississippi Baptists’ disaster relief coordinator, and Barri Shirley, MBCB associate executive director for business services, are heading up the team.

Didlake reported on the morning of September 2 that many areas of the Gulf Coast he has inspected thus far have encountered considerable flooding, downed trees, and electrical power outages.

“There’s going to be a need for some cleanup and ‘mud-out’ work,” Didlake said, referring to the procedure used when Baptist volunteers remove materials such as wallboard and carpet from a home that has been flooded.

“There will also be a need for financial assistance, building materials, and repair work,” he said, adding that the MBCB Disaster Relief Unit’s mass feeding operation may be dispatched to hard-hit areas of southwest Mississippi.

“The spirit of the people to whom we’ve talked is good,” Didlake said.

Relieved Mississippians expressed gratitude that Gustav delivered only a glancing blow to the state, unlike Hurricane Katrina three years earlier that came ashore near Bay St. Louis and caused destruction not seen since Hurricane Camille in 1969.

The Sun-Herald newspaper in Biloxi reported September 2 that 92,571 homes statewide were without power, with more than half in the six southernmost counties of Pearl River, Stone, George, Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson.

The only known fatality at publication deadline was reported to be the result of a weather-related traffic accident in Pike County.

Jim Futral, MBCB executive director-treasurer, appealed to Mississippi Baptists to find a place of service in the post-Gustav relief effort.

“People along the Gulf Coast held their breath for several days as Hurricane Gustav was making his arrival,” Futral said. “Already, Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief feeding and recovery teams have been mobilized and deployed into areas damaged or destroyed by Gustav.

“No doubt, it could have been much worse but still there is destruction and loss all across the Coast. Please be in prayer for our brothers and sisters in the affected areas. Lend your support at whatever opportunity you may have and, if you or your church desires, make financial contributions.”

Checks can be made payable to Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and designated to Hurricane Relief on the memo line. Contributions can be mailed the MBCB Business Office, Hurricane Relief, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530.

“Your thoughtfulness and graciousness is a constant source of amazement for the people across the world. God bless you as we love and help one another,” Futral said.

A number of churches affiliated with the Mississippi Baptist Convention have opened their doors to shelter large numbers of people involved in what is being described as a record evacuation from south Mississippi and south Louisiana, as well as metro New Orleans. Officials estimated the Louisiana evacuation alone at nearly two million people.

For the most up-to-date information on the developing Hurricane Gustav relief effort, check the MBCB web site at