ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP/FBW) –While Hurricane Debby blew ashore in the Big Bend of Florida creating historic flooding earlier this week, monster wildfires raging in Colorado and other Western states have kept Southern Baptist leaders busy mapping responses in both parts of the country.
Fritz Wilson, disaster relief director for the Florida Baptist Convention, said a response plan is being developed as the ground water from torrential rain -- as much as 25 inches in some areas -- begins to recede.
Emergency officials said Debby, downgraded to a tropical storm with winds just under 40 mph before it moved inland, was responsible for 7 deaths, most related to rip currents and tornadoes.
"We will concentrate on the Live Oak area," Wilson said, adding that in his 16 years in Florida, he's never seen Live Oak -- county seat for Suwannee County with about 7,000 people -- flood. "It got 20 inches of rain in a 24-36 hour period. It'll be another week before the water is out because the area is flat and the water will have to go back down through the water table."
With Florida DR's Eddie Blackmon as the area commander, First Baptist Church in Live Oak will be the base of operations for the disaster relief teams. Some feeding also will be done, using the church's own kitchen, Wilson said.
"First Baptist Church is ready to respond and open doors for our teams to meet needs in the community and bring help and hope to the people of Live Oak," Blackmon said. He anticipates the local response to begin immediately where waters have receded while more teams are being prepare to move in July 8 and begin work July 9.
At the request of the American Red Cross and Florida Division of Emergency Management, Florida Baptist Disaster Relief is transporting water already previously stocked to Suwannee County, according to a spokesperson from the Florida Baptist Convention.
Donations to help the flood victims and the Florida Baptist Disaster Relief response can be sent to 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207 or on-line at www.flbaptist.org/OnLineGiving/MakeaDonationNow.aspx. Please designate "disaster relief."
Mickey Caison, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief team leader for the North American Mission Board based in Alpharetta, Ga., said it will a few days before the DR people in Colorado will have access to the fire affected areas.
"We're consulting with the state disaster relief leaders and developing a plan for how we can help,” Caison said. “Once they gain access, they will determine how much and what kind of help they will need. Once the fires are out, we will support a cleanup operation."
But according to news reports, the Waldo Canyon Fire -- still fueled by gusting winds -- is far from contained and has forced some 35,000 people from their homes in the 650,000-person Colorado Springs metro area. Only three miles from the Colorado Springs city limits, the fires also threatening the campus of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The Waldo Canyon fire -- which has destroyed at least 300 homes -- is only one of a dozen wildfires charring Colorado land. Tens of thousands of Coloradans remain homeless, forced by the fast-moving fires to evacuate their homes, yet unsure whether their homes will be there when they return.
Colorado Springs Fire Chief Rich Brown called the wildfire a "monster" and said its flames were "not even remotely close to being contained." The fire has scorched more than 15,000 acres around the base of famed Pikes Peak.
Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said his state's DR team is on standby to stage a major feeding response in the Colorado Springs area once the fires are out and entry is possible.
"Our state DR leaders are building a team now so we can roll quickly when and if we get the call," Porter said. "It would require a major feeding unit and 40 volunteers to run it." Oklahoma Baptists have also been operating a laundry unit in Fort Collins but will move it to Colorado Springs when a new site is determined.
From NAMB's disaster operations center in Alpharetta, Ga., Caison, Wilson and NAMB staff members coordinate and manage Southern Baptist Disaster Relief responses to major disasters throughout North America via a partnership among NAMB and the SBC's 42 state conventions, most of which run their own state disaster relief programs with state convention-owned assets.
Total SBDR assets include 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the largest mobilizers of trained, credentialed disaster relief volunteers in the United States, including the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. With additional reporting by Florida Baptist Witness.
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