News

Southern Baptists combat flooding, storm damage; volunteers still needed

06.21.19

By Brandon Elrod

GREENVILLE, Texas—Storms with strong, straight-line winds have wrought havoc in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the last two weeks, underscoring the severe weather events that have been occurring across the United States.

Highland Terrace Baptist Church in Greenville, Texas received a direct hit from a wind gust.

“Two days ago, life was normal—whatever that is,” senior pastor Chet Haney said. “Now, we’re kind of in chaos, but God’s been moving, and we’ve been seeing a lot of blessings in the midst of this.”

Just before the storm hit Greenville Wednesday night (June 19), Haney and his staff sent an alert to their congregation that church activities were canceled for the evening.

“We were just about to go in there for our Wednesday night service,” Haney said. “The front quarter of the sanctuary was peeled off by the high wind. The whole altar area is basically exposed to the sunshine.

“Part of the roof that blew off landed on another part of our building and demolished some of our Sunday school space like a missile hit it.”

Highland Terrace Baptist Church suffered severe damage when a strong, straight-line gust of wind struck the church, tearing off the roof and sending it through another a part of the church building. Photo courtesy of Chet Haney.

Haney estimated that the area would have been filled with students just fifteen minutes later had they not closed the church. A local CBS affiliate reported that two teens showed up early and witnessed the roof collapsing.

“We specifically prayed for God to take authority over this storm and prevent loss of life, people getting hurt, and minimize the damage,” Haney said.

He reported that the storm missed an apartment complex and did not touch another residential area even though some of the hundred-year-old oak trees were “uprooted like weeds.”

In Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas Baptist Men (TBM) have been providing help to residents dealing with storm damage.

“We are up to our eyeballs in chainsaw work right now,” said Dwain Carter, Southern Baptist disaster relief (SBDR) director for TBM. “We had, the last two Sundays in a row, pretty bad wind storms go through the city of Dallas. We’ve had about seven chainsaw teams working pretty much nonstop for the last two weeks.”

The winds that hit the area attained speeds of more than 100 miles per hour, Carter said, and cut a 30-mile-long path of destruction.

A Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chainsaw crew with the Texas Baptist Men removes a downed tree from a home. Photo courtesy of Texas Baptist Men.

As flooding and other storms have devastated other parts of the U.S., TBM has sent teams to assist in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

“We would be in bad trouble if it wasn’t for the amazing [Southern Baptist] volunteers that we have nationwide,” Carter said.

Over the last few months, the flood waters that filled Nebraska and Iowa have been making their way south, and now Arkansas, Oklahoma and Illinois are dealing with the blunt of rising rivers.

“To complicate matters, we had the flooding event,” said Randy Garrett, SBDR director for Arkansas Baptists. “It’s the worst one we’ve experienced in my lifetime. Then, Wednesday, we had straight-line winds come through Little Rock and southern Arkansas. Several thousand homes are still without power.”

As the waters have started receding, SBDR teams from Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee are currently cleaning out flooded homes, and chainsaw teams are clearing wind damaged communities of downed trees. Of 200 homes assessed by Arkansas SBDR, roughly 100 have been served so far.

“We’ve had a tremendous turnout,” Garrett said. “I’d estimate that we’ve had probably 500 volunteers come in so far,” but they could use more. He and his team have been conducting emergency flood training through local churches to get more people on the field to work with the trained SBDR volunteers.

In Oklahoma, a state of emergency has been declared in more than 20 of the state’s counties. Since their first storms hit April 30, SBDR has had a presence in 27 cities and towns in the state.

“We think there are probably close to 1,000 homeowners with 700 asking for help right now,” said Don Williams, SBDR director for Oklahoma Baptists. “We’ve helped about 250 of them so far. Southern Baptists have done at least a third of the work, if not more, in Oklahoma.”

Of those 250, half have been flood recovery jobs while the other half have been chainsaw work done following wind damage. SBDR volunteers from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) along with teams from Arizona, Utah, Idaho and California.

“We are glad to be in Oklahoma to serve to help Oklahomans and Oklahoma DR,” SBTC disaster relief director, Scottie Stice, told the Southern Baptist Texan.

“Southern Baptists rise to the occasion,” Williams added. “We’ve reported at least seven salvations so far. We’re here to bring physical help so we can speak spiritually into their lives.”

Illinois Baptists, like Oklahoma and Arkansas, are still calling for disaster relief volunteers as they combat flooding in their state. One town, Hardin, Ill., is situated on a peninsula between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, and SBDR volunteers will be able to access the area via a ferry boat.

“We’ve got two locations in Moline [Ill.] and Hardin that will be starting work in the next couple of days,” said Illinois SBDR director, Butch Porter. “We appreciate the other states stepping up and being willing to help.”

SBDR teams from Kentucky and Pennsylvania/South Jersey are expected to arrive to assist the Illinois teams, and more volunteers are needed.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.