JACKSONVILLE (FBW)-Leaving thousands without power in South Florida into Tuesday, Florida Baptist leaders continue to watch Hurricane Isaac as it gathers strength in the Gulf of Mexico, apparently on track towards New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Pensacola and Destin are not out of the woods yet, Wilson said, and other Florida coastal areas might be affected if Isaac swings back to the east or spawns dangerous tornadoes or flooding.
Updated to hurricane status at 11:20 a.m. by the National Weather Service, Wilson said Hurricane Isaac is “a much smaller storm” than was Katrina, but still any storm is dangerous.
Hurricane Katrina had been a Category 5 hurricane just hours before it struck the Gulf Coast as a Category 3 storm, causing catastrophic damage. “If you are not careful, you are comparing apples to oranges,” Wilson said.
Still, any storm is dangerous and the state of Louisiana and the Louisiana Baptist Convention and its volunteer disaster relief response is much better prepared than previously, Wilson anticipated.
“Experience is a great teacher,” he said.
A team out of Central Baptist Church in Melbourne reported tornadoes in Vero Beach had caused some damage and they had offered assistance, Wilson said.
Otherwise, “damage across the Keys was very minimal.”
Ozzie Vater, pastor of Fifth Street Baptist Church in Key West, confirmed what Wilson said. Writing on Florida Baptist Convention’s Facebook page Vater said he had been out checking on things after Isaac passed near the Keys.
“A few small branches down, but that’s it,” he wrote. “Some localized flooding in low-lying areas but that is normal. Thanking the Lord for watching over us and all His prayer warriors for lifting us up!”
John Churchill, a church planter and pastor at Bay Community Church in Miami, tweeted early Tuesday his community was without power.
The Florida Baptist Convention’s South Florida Urban Impact Center was also closed Monday as a precaution but re-opened Tuesday for normal business.
In Brandon, Michael C. Smith, a member of Bell Shoals Baptist Church wrote on Facebook “the Tampa Bay area has been spared for the most part.”
Wilson, who leaves Florida to become the new executive director of Disaster Relief for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board in October, said there is much more to today’s disaster relief than feeding people—although that remains a key component of the entire operation.
Headed to Atlanta where NAMB will coordinate a multi-state Southern Baptist Disaster Relief effort to assist Louisiana or any of the affected states, Wilson said from the beginning of Isaac Florida Baptist leaders have joined daily conference calls with NAMB and other area states. When Isaac headed westward, additional states became involved.
From its disaster operations center in Alpharetta, NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through a partnership between NAMB and the SBC's 42 state conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.
In addition to coordinating with NAMB, Florida Baptists have participated in 3-a-day conference calls with the state of Florida’s Emergency Operation’s Center (EOC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Eddie Blackmon, disaster relief specialist for the Florida Baptist Convention, left Panama City to report to Washington D.C., where he will serve as Southern Baptists liaison to the American Red Cross for the duration of this response, Wilson said.
Preliminary plans at NAMB, according to Baptist Press, call for mobilizing two its three 18-wheel tractor trailers -- one to Hattiesburg, Miss., and the other to Covington, La., or even farther west depending on Isaac's eventual landfall. NAMB DR staffers loaded the trailers Monday with plastic roof sheeting for use in repairing homes of hurricane victims.
If needed, NAMB is prepared to deploy a command post trailer from Alpharetta to the Gulf Coast.
Noting Aug. 24 marked the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, the costliest in Florida history, Wilson said there has been a tremendous change in the way Southern Baptists are prepared to respond to a disaster.
“Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and Florida Baptist Disaster Relief was just some folks with a couple of mobile kitchens,” Wilson said, noting there were about 500 volunteers when Andrew struck.
Now there is a “very” formal system in place, Wilson said, and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is generally recognized as the third largest disaster relief organization in the country following the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.
Mickey Caison, disaster relief team leader for NAMB, said in a Baptist Press article, he believes Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is much better equipped for Isaac than for Katrina.
"We're much better off than we were seven years ago," Caison said. "I think we're much better prepared. We have seven more years of experience, planning and development as well as better equipment and more trained volunteers. Southern Baptists and the nation in general are better prepared for a Gulf Coast hurricane response today."
To donate to Florida Baptist Disaster Relief, please send contributions to 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207 or on-line at www.flbaptist.org/OnLineGiving/MakeaDonationNow.aspx. Please designate “ for disaster relief.”
For more information and for updates, please go to the Facebook site of Florida Baptist Disaster Relief at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Florida-Baptist-Disaster-Relief/125877080836931.
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