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Disaster Task Force feeding unit operations completed

Helping Tornado Victims photo

HELPING TORNADO VICTIMS — Gene Johnson, a member of First Church, Lumberton, and a volunteer with the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force, checks on the progress of the evening meal being prepared Feb. 18 for victims of the EF-4 tornado that swept through Lamar and Forrest counties on the afternoon of Feb. 10. The feeding unit of the Task Force concluded operations on Feb. 20, but work crews remain in the area and plans are being made for long-term rebuilding.(Photo by William H. Perkins Jr.)

By William H. Perkins Jr.

Editor, The Baptist Record

Story originally published in The Baptist Record on February 28, 2013

More than 23,000 meals were prepared by Mississippi Baptist volunteers in the aftermath of the powerful tornado that caused widespread destruction in Lamar and Forrest counties on the afternoon of Feb. 10, according to the coordinator of the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force.

Jim Didlake, director of men’s ministry for the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB), said the mass feeding unit from Briar Hill Church in Florence conducted operations from its base at First Church, Petal, with Baptist volunteers from across the state. The unit closed its feeding operations on Feb. 20.

In addition to the volunteers who staffed the mass feeding unit, the Task Force also activated 12 teams to conduct chainsaw operations, debris clearance, and blue tarp roof work, and that work will continue, Didlake reported.

More than 300 Task Force volunteers have been involved thus far in the disaster response, Didlake said. He estimated that Mississippi Baptist volunteers have worked on about 185 damaged or destroyed homes.

The unofficial tally of homes affected by the storm stands at 800. The Oak Grove community in Lamar County took a hard hit, as did the cities of Hattiesburg and Petal. A number of businesses also sustained heavy damage. The office of the Red Cross in Hattiesburg was flattened.

Structures in the southeastern corner of the University of Southern Mississippi, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 49 and Hardy Street, suffered significant damage. Those structures include the Old Fire Station and the Ogletree Alumni House.

High Climb photo

HIGH CLIMB — Volunteers with the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force place blue tarps over a roof damaged by the Feb. 10 tornado that damaged or destroyed over 800 homes and businesses in Lamar and Forrest counties. (Special photo courtesy of Don Gann)

Donations Accepted

Checks should be made payable to MBCB, with “Miss. Disaster Relief” noted on the memo line. The address to mail donations is Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. On-line donations can be made at http://mbcb.org/giving/.

Don Gann is a consultant in the MBCB Men’s Ministry Department and has been on the scene of the tornado since shortly after it touched down. “The Mississippi Baptist churches in the Hattiesburg area are some of the best organized and trained units in the Task Force. They have been coordinating with us and have a number of teams in the field that are not included in that volunteer total,” Gann said.

The National Weather Service has classified the tornado as an EF-4 with sustained winds of 170 miles per hour — only one step below some of the most powerful tornadoes ever recorded. The Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale is a standardized method of rating the magnitude of tornadoes. The scale runs from EF-0 with winds of 65-85 miles per hour, to EF-5 with winds greater than 200 miles per hour.

Didlake said the Task force is now moving into the rebuilding phase of its response, with follow-up meetings scheduled to determine long-term needs. “Once we meet with local Mississippi Baptist pastors whose churches partner with the Task Force, we will know what those long-term needs are. In the meantime, insurance matters and other considerations have to be resolved.”

An announcement will be made when the details of the rebuilding phase are worked out over the next several weeks, Didlake said. Rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina and other disasters involved donations of construction materials, skilled volunteers from the construction industry, and funding for the projects.

The MBCB is accepting financial donations to assist the victims of the violent weather. Checks should be made payable to MBCB, with “Miss. Disaster Relief” noted on the memo line. The address to mail donations is Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. On-line donations can be made at http://mbcb.org/giving/.

“In-kind” donations, such as food, clothing, or equipment, are not being accepted at this time.