By Brandon Elrod
FLORIDA—Officials are continuing to assess the damage from Hurricane Irma, which tore through Florida over the weekend and left widespread power outages, structural damage and flooding. The Florida Keys sustained serious damage, and initial reports suggest it could take at least a month before people are allowed back into the Keys.
In Miami, Irma left 75 percent of the population without power. In Florida’s Lee and Collier counties, 87 to 95 percent of residents were without power. Tampa experienced outages in 60 percent of residential and commercial properties. Jacksonville was left with flash flooding that forced at least three bridges to close. Numerous tornados were also reported to have moved across the state in the aftermath of the hurricane.
By Monday night, Sept. 11, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams throughout the Eastern United States were deploying to locations to set up feeding units across South Florida at the request of American Red Cross (ARC). Those units were equipped to provide 130,000 meals per day across six locations.
More units will likely be deployed as damage assessments continue.
Kitchens are projected to start serving their first meals by Friday, Sept. 15. Specific churches will remain temporary shelters. Many congregations and disaster relief teams have self-deployed to help their neighbors in whatever ways they can.
A temporary childcare unit is available at the Putnam Community Medical Center in Palatka, Fla., east of Gainesville.
Resources and volunteers have already been stretched thin due to major responses required by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. However, SBDR leaders remain upbeat and eager to do whatever it takes to serve those in need.
“We are always concerned about our churches,” said Mark MacDonald, a strategic communications catalyst with the Florida Baptist Convention. “We want those who have been affected by the storm to know that we are right beside them.”
Volunteers still needed in Texas
Mud out teams continue their work in Houston and other parts of Texas and Louisiana to clear debris from flooded homes. Chainsaw teams are also being deployed across Texas to clear downed trees. Southern Baptists are continuing to prepare hot meals for Texans who still can’t return to their homes.
David Melber, vice president of Send Relief at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), pointed out volunteers are now needed for weekday projects in Houston.
“Many of the local churches have been giving significant volunteer help for the last two weeks,” Melber said. “But those volunteers are now having to go back to their jobs. We need hundreds of volunteers who can serve on week days.”
In addition to homes, hundreds of churches were impacted by flooding in Texas.
“It has been encouraging to see a lot of our churches bring teams to directly help local churches,” Melber said. “But when they return home after a week, those Texas churches still have a lot of needs. That is why each Texas church needs several churches from outside the area to partner with it in relief efforts.”
Financial donations for hurricanes Irma and Harvey relief can be made to the NAMB’s Send Relief efforts at sendrelief.net/sendhope. Churches and individuals can also volunteer for service opportunities through that site as well. Donations can also be made through your state Baptist disaster relief team.
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.