Irma takes toll on Florida; SBDR ready to move

EDITOR’S NOTE: As Hurricane Irma was inflicting severe damage through Florida today (Sunday, Sept. 10), a Send Relief Bulletin was distributed this afternoon by the North American Mission Board, following one issued yesterday (Saturday, Sept. 9).

The full text of the Sept. 10 bulletin is below followed by the Sept. 8 Baptist Press story on Hurricane Irma’s track through the Caribbean toward Florida. The Sept. 9 bulletin is repeated following the BP story.

Florida is experiencing flooding, heavy rains and hurricane-force winds. Already, hundreds of thousands are without power. State disaster officials estimate that every county in the state will sustain damage from Hurricane Irma.

Here is some key information related to the national Southern Baptist response:

-- Our national Send Relief team has identified several Southern Baptist churches that will be ready to serve as shelters and disaster relief staging centers after the storm has passed. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leaders in Florida and Georgia have attempted to move as much equipment as possible to safe locations so it can be utilized after the storm.

-- It currently appears that Tampa will incur significant damage. A storm of this magnitude has not hit Tampa since the 1920s.

-- We are asking that all SBDR teams east of the Mississippi River be on standby to serve in Florida, Georgia and other areas impacted by Irma. The Florida Baptist Convention has significant disaster relief resources, but many of their volunteers have been evacuated and will be focused on helping their own families recover for the foreseeable future.

-- Atlanta is currently under a tropical storm warning with heavy rains and winds gusting to 70 mph beginning late Sunday night. NAMB staff in the Atlanta area should take steps today to prepare their homes for wind, rain and the possibility for power loss. Please be as personally prepared as possible so you will be available to serve our partners and those in need.

-- Please pray for those in the path of this storm and for those in the Caribbean who are dealing with the aftermath. To donate or volunteer visit namb.net/Irma or your state Baptist relief website.

Hurricane Harvey

The total number of SBDR and Send Relief units serving in Texas and Louisiana has now topped 100. Mud-out activities are increasing and leaders are making arrangements for long-term volunteer service. To donate or volunteer visit namb.net/Harvey or your state Baptist relief website.

Action, prayer, Gospel fuel Baptist response to Irma

NASHVILLE (BP) -- With Caribbean islands devastated and hurricane Irma still large enough to charge up both sides of Florida simultaneously, Southern Baptist leaders are exhorting the church to pray, give, go and offer the comfort that only the Holy Spirit affords.

Hurricane Irma, a category 5 storm, devastated many parts of the Caribbean Tuesday, Sept. 5. The storm now threatens Florida, where is is forecast to make landfall in south Florida Sunday morning and bring strong winds and rain to both coasts of the peninsula as it moves north.
Screen capture from BBC.com
As a Category 5 hurricane, Irma killed at least 11 people, devastated some Caribbean islands and heavily damaged others beginning Tuesday night (Sept. 5), the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) reported in daily updates.

Irma's more than 600-mile width is enough to flood the east and west coasts of Florida concurrently when it makes anticipated landfall as a category 4 Sunday (Sept. 10).

Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines encouraged Southern Baptists to pray, give and personally go to help those in need.

"As multitudes evacuate Florida due to Hurricane Irma, we call upon all Southern Baptists to pray fervently in faith that the Lord will dissipate this storm and protect Floridians from harm," Gaines told Baptist Press. "We also encourage Southern Baptists to not only pray, but also to give financially to provide relief for all hurricane victims.

"Finally, Southern Baptists must be willing to go to Florida to serve those who suffer loss and harm," Gaines, pastor of Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, said. "As we pray, give and go, the Lord will provide strategic platforms for us to share the Gospel of Christ with lost people."

A multifaceted Southern Baptist response is underway, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities have told BP. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has positioned units in Georgia to move into the affected storm areas in the U.S. as soon as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) signals safety, NAMB said in its Send Relief Bulletin today. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR), the Florida Baptist Convention disaster relief and SBDR ministries in multiple states are being activated.

Many Southern Baptist churches in Florida have canceled weekend services and other programs, and are helping members evacuate and prepare for the storm, Mark MacDonald, FBC strategic communication catalyst, told BP. "We pray, watch and prepare," he said.

Southern Baptist partner Baptist Global Response is in touch with churches in the Caribbean and is poised to respond to devastation there, BGR CEO Jeff Palmer told BP.

Irma threatens to stretch Southern Baptist recovery efforts as volunteers are already active in Texas and Louisiana, where Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding and killed more than 70 people.

Hurricane Jose strengthened to a category 4 in the Caribbean today, threatening islands just hit by Irma. In Mexico, a shattering 8.1 magnitude earthquake killed at least 32 people when it struck late Thursday (Sept. 7), Reuters reported. In the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katia is a category 2 and could strike Mexico late tonight or Saturday morning, the National Hurricane Center predicted.

Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, affirmed prayer amid what he called "a time of unprecedented damage and natural disaster."

"We are praying right now for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and our prayers expand to include the people of the southeast as it will be impacted by Hurricane Irma," Page told BP when asked about hurricane damage. "Our hearts and prayers also go out to our friends in the Caribbean.

"I've already seen one text from a pastor friend in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands who said that the island has been destroyed. God bless our friends in the Caribbean."

Page expressed assurances from BGR and NAMB of their readiness to act, and encouraged the church to "to look to our Lord and to depend on the fellowship and ministry of fellow believers. God help us all!"

BGR will move assessment teams into the Caribbean this weekend, Palmer told BP on Thursday as the storm continued to move land and sea, taking lives and destroying homes and infrastructure.

"We'll have our initial assessment team on the ground Friday or Saturday," he said, "and we're not sure where we're going to base them yet, because it's a widespread area. We're working very closely with North American Mission Board Send Relief, and coordinating with them to make this a good Southern Baptist response."

Palmer has been in touch with the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship and church leaders in the Dominican Republic, he said, and anticipates the need for much help after the storm.

"Basically in their larger island areas like Antigua, they really were spared by the grace of God," Palmer said. "In smaller places -- Barbuda, the Virgin Islands and St. Martin -- (they) have been hit pretty hard." The BGR is also monitoring Hurricane Jose, Palmer said.

NAMB is managing resources with state SBDR partners to sustain simultaneous responses to Harvey and Irma.

"We are asking SBDR teams and churches with volunteers located east of the Mississippi River to make plans in response to Hurricane Irma needs," NAMB said in its bulletin. "Those located west of the Mississippi River should continue their Hurricane Harvey response.

"We know there will be some exceptions to this geographical division of disaster relief work," NAMB said, "but with two such historic and significant responses needed, this kind of detailed coordination is critical."

NAMB asked state conventions, associations and churches to place all SBDR units on alert for both disasters, focusing also on the needs within their respective states.

The Hurricane Harvey response must continue even in the midst of ramp-up for Irma," NAMB said. "We need every church, association and state convention to be willing to mobilize when needed."

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Send Relief Bulletin, Saturday, Sept. 9

ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- South Florida is experiencing the effects of Hurricane Irma already today even though official landfall may not happen until Sunday evening.

Our national Send Relief leaders are continuing to work closely with FEMA, American Red Cross, the Florida Baptist Convention and state Baptist relief leaders to stage resources and plan for a response as soon as conditions are safe for volunteers to deploy. Here is some key information related to the national Southern Baptist response:

-- As of 2 p.m. Eastern time Saturday, weather officials predicted the storm to make landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast south of Tampa early Sunday evening, but the state will be feeling the effects long before official landfall.

-- Southern Baptists are prepared to provide up to 230,000 hot meals a day in the aftermath of Irma. That number can be scaled up if needed. We are also prepared to provide mass child care for shelters in Florida and Georgia. NAMB's Disaster Operation Center is active and serving our state Baptist partners.

-- Send Relief trucks are loaded with roof tarping, water, personal protection equipment for volunteers, chemicals for mold removal and prevention, as well as other life support items. Staging has been moved further north due to the change in the storm's predicted path.

-- In the Caribbean, Baptist relief operations will be based in the Dominican Republic – Santo Domingo. Equipment and supplies are being coordinated through FEMA to be placed in areas of biggest need. Response is being coordinated with Baptist Global Relief (BGR) and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR); teams are on their way to the impacted areas.

-- Donate or volunteer for Hurricane Irma at namb.net/Irma or your state SBDR website.

Hurricane Harvey

-- SBDR feeding levels are holding steady but ARC is looking to combine sites. Mud-out and general cleanup teams are a major need right now. A large number of churches were impacted so there is also a great need for church-to-church partnerships. Donate or volunteer at namb.net/Harvey or your state SBDR website.

-- Please continue to pray and have patience as we work hard to support the teams that are serving. Please have your SBDR teams and untrained volunteers on standby to serve.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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