Storm could become ‘crescendo moment’ in Louisiana

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By Brandon Elrod & Baptist Message Staff

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is preparing an initial response if the tropical system currently in the Gulf of Mexico develops into Hurricane Barry overnight on Friday (July 12), but floodwaters already have started to rise in New Orleans.

“The water is almost as high as it can get within its banks at various points along the Mississippi River, and now they’re waiting to get 15 more inches of rain,” said Sam Porter, national SBDR director at the North American Mission Board.

Over the last several months, SBDR teams have been responding to flooding in the Midwest and the South. Much of that water has flowed south along the Mississippi River, causing the river to be above flood stage ahead of the incoming storm.

Meteorologists warn that the danger will be the potential of rain and storm surge combining to cause the river to hit maximum flood stage, which would overwhelm levees protecting New Orleans and lower Louisiana.

“It’s like the perfect storm that’s about to have its crescendo moment this weekend,” Porter said. “With the intense flooding north of Louisiana, we’ve had our eyes on how that flooding would eventually affect the state and New Orleans in particular.”

The storm has been slowly creeping toward land in recent days and is expected to make landfall Saturday on the Louisiana coastline, causing flooding into Mississippi as the storm drops rain on its journey inland.

SBDR leadership has begun putting together an initial response plan in case the worst-case scenario plays out, and Porter expects volunteers to step up despite a busy year in disaster relief.

Shane McGivney, SBDR director for Mississippi Baptists, has teams on standby and expressed concerns for how the rainfall will aggravate the 550,000 acres in the Mississippi Delta that has been flooded since February.

 “We’re in a wait-and-see mode,” McGivney said. “It’s probably been the most active year we can remember as far as tornados and flooding.”

“Even though they have been stretched up to exhaustion,” Porter said of SBDR volunteers, “God always seems to make a way to rally this amazing volunteer organization to become the hands and feet of our Lord to assist others who cannot help themselves.”

Alerts issued to volunteers

John Hebert, missions and ministry director for the Louisiana Baptist Convention who oversees disaster relief operations, said DR leaders have “assessed our resources and issued alerts to our trained personnel to prepare themselves and their mobile units.”

“In addition, we are ready to establish command centers, and our folks are maintaining a constant state of readiness — literally watching and praying.”

If the storm hits Louisiana, disaster relief volunteers will respond immediately, Hebert said. If it shifts course, he said “we are ready” to respond to requests for help from neighboring states.

Gibbie McMillan, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief coordinator, noted, “If they need food, the Red Cross calls and we respond. If flooding takes place, we wait till the water goes down and we help people get the debris out and dry out and rebuild. If there is a need for a shower unit or a generator, we can help. If a tree falls on a building, we can help remove it. We cannot do it all, but we respond as we’re able.”

The National Hurricane Center said at noon today (July 11) that Tropical Storm Barry was located about 100 miles south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Landfall as a hurricane is projected by early Saturday along the Louisiana coast but may shift to the east over Mississippi.

Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency Wednesday for Barry, the second named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Rain accumulations of 10-15 inches are predicted for the central Gulf Coast region from Friday through early next week. However, portions of eastern Louisiana and southern Mississippi may experience isolated maximum rainfall of up to 20 inches.

In New Orleans a number of cars were submerged on city streets and some businesses experienced first floor flooding after up to 8 inches of rain fell in some areas Wednesday morning.

The city is closing all 244 floodgates to hold back the anticipated storm surge.

Evacuations were issued Thursday morning for all of the New Orleans-area Plaquemines Parish (mandatory for the entire East Bank and Oakville and Venice on the West Bank; voluntary for the rest of the West Bank) and parts of Jefferson Parish — Barataria, Crown Point, Jean Lafitte, Lafitte and Grand Isle.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is among the three largest providers of disaster relief assistance in the United States. Southern Baptist churches, associations and state conventions all partner to mobilize volunteers, resources and equipment to provide services. The North American Mission Board provides national coordination and assistance in larger multi-state responses.
MASHALLTOWN, Iowa (BP) — Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have begun cleanup work in Marshalltown, Iowa, following a devastating tornado July 19.

A Missouri Baptist Disaster Relief team arrived Tuesday to set up incident command at Iglesia Karios in Marshalltown. Chainsaw teams from Iowa have dispersed throughout the city to clear debris. An SBDR feeding team has prepared meals for recovery workers in the area.

Additional SBDR volunteers from Kansas-Nebraska and Florida already are on the ground in Marshalltown. Carlson, co-director of Iowa Baptist Disaster Relief, expects volunteers from other nearby states to arrive later this week and early next week. Teams from other states interested in providing assistance should contact their state disaster relief director.

“It looks like a war zone to tell you the truth,” Carlson said. “When you go downtown, you’ll see a lot of glass and brick everywhere.

“On the east part of town, there are about 10 blocks that are very heavily hit. There’s really not many trees standing. A lot of those homes aren’t livable,” Carlson said.

The EF-3 tornado injured at least 235 people in the town of 27,000 located 50 miles northeast of Des Moines. Carlson estimates that at least 100 homes were destroyed. Many more homes will take substantial work before people can return to live in them. Carlson believes it will take months, if not years, for Marshalltown to rebuild.

Some of the worst damage in Marshalltown came to the town’s courthouse and the brick buildings in the town square. In recent years officials and property owners had slowly worked to revamp the buildings, many of which are now destroyed. Jenny Etter, executive director of the Marshalltown Central Business District, estimates that the city had spent $50 million in building renovations since 2002.

A dozen or more tornadoes hit central Iowa last Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. The two biggest tornadoes, both rated EF-3, hit Marshalltown and Pella, with peak winds of 144 mph.

SBDR chaplains are also in Marshalltown to provide support and counsel to residents impacted by the tornado. Sam Porter, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, prays the SBDR response will provide volunteers opportunities to share the Gospel.

“[The] number one goal with disaster relief is to earn the right to share the Gospel,” Porter said. “We work with those impacted. We treat them with respect. We pray with them. When they ask the question, ‘What makes you do this for no charge?’ that’s when you’ve earned the right to share the Gospel.”

The Marshalltown tornado comes on the heels of the SBDR response to flooding in Des Moines, Iowa, where teams wrapped up work last week. Eight people came to faith last week during SBDR efforts in the capital city, Carlson said.

Porter and Carlson urge Southern Baptists to pray for Marshalltown and the rest of Central Iowa.

“Pray for all the people who live here,” Carlson said. “A lot of them lost their homes. They lost their cars. They lost their job. There is a lot of a need here.”

Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board.,

Published July 12, 2019