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Baptists mobilize tornado response

Baptists Respond photo

BAPTISTS RESPOND — Joe Ross, a member of First Church, Meridian, and a volunteer for the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force, helps prepare the Feb. 18 evening meal for victims of the EF-4 tornado that struck the Hattiesburg area in south Mississippi on the afternoon of Feb. 10. The Task Force, which currently includes chain saw, debris clearance, and blue tarp teams in addition to mass feeding units, is headquartered on the campus of First Church, Petal.(Photo by William H. Perkins Jr.)

By William H. Perkins Jr.

Editor, The Baptist Record

Story originally published in The Baptist Record on February 21, 2013

Mississippi Baptist disaster relief volunteers are still on the scene of a powerful tornado that tore through the Hattiesburg area on the afternoon of Feb. 10, damaging or destroying up to 800 homes and raking the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.

The tornado, designated an EF-4 by the National Weather Service, flattened houses and extensively damaged at least one school in the Oak Grove community of Lamar County before heading eastward into Hattiesburg and Petal in Forrest County. The tornado’s footprint was estimated to be three-quarters of a mile wide, but no fatalities were reported among several hundred injuries.

The Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale is a standardized method of rating tornado damage. 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. Preliminary estimates put the speed of the winds associated with the Feb. 10 tornado at 170 miles per hour.

Don Gann, consultant in the Men’s Ministry Department of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board (MBCB) which administers the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force, reported at press deadline on the morning of Feb. 19 that about 75 task force members were currently in the Hattiesburg area conducting feeding operations, chainsaw operations, debris clearance, and blue tarp placement on damaged roofs.

“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 75-count volunteer total,” Gann said.

He estimated over 8,000 hot meals have been prepared by the Task Force as of the Feb. 18 evening meal. The feeding unit is operating on the campus of First Church, Petal, which was undamaged.

Among the associational disaster relief units that have been activated by the Task Force are Calhoun, Copiah, Covington/Jefferson Davis, Gulf Coast, Jackson, Pearl River, and Yalobusha. Other units are on standby.

“We have also started looking to the future and planning for the rebuilding phase of the response,” Gann said. “We’ll need construction supplies, and construction personnel on a rotating basis, for an estimated six months.”

For information on participating in the rebuilding phase, contact Carol Wright in the MBCB Men’s Ministry Department, P.O. Box 530, Jackson, MS 39205-0530. Telephone: (601) 292-3334 or toll free outside Jackson (800) 748-1651, ext. 334. E-mail: cwright@mbcb.org. Web site: www.mbcb.org.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention Board 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.

In addition to donations, the Mississippi Baptist Disaster Relief Task Force is supported by gifts to the Margaret Lackey State Mission Offering and the Mississippi Cooperative Program.