About 1,500 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were setting up units in Texas and were expected to be operational to serve victims within forty-eight hours after Hurricane Ike had passed through the region. The primary focus of initial efforts was food preparation, with thirty-nine kitchen units on site in the state.
The American Red Cross asked Southern Baptists to be ready to prepare up to 375,000 hot meals a day, while the Salvation Army requested 125,000 meals a day, bringing the total to 500,000.
In addition to feeding units, more than forty other types of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units began arriving in the devastated areas. These include shower, laundry, communications, and chainsaw units.
"Right now, with so many people without power, the priority is preparing hot meals for the victims," said Mickey Caison, Operations Director at the North American Mission Board's Disaster Operations Center in Alpharetta, Georgia. "As the days and weeks unfold and the power returns, we will shift to a focus on recovery." Those efforts will include tree removal, tarping damaged roofs, and removing mud and other debris from flooded homes.
Communities pounded by Hurricane Ike continue to experience a major infrastructure crisis of water, sewage, electricity, and fuel supplies. Even gas stations that have fuel are unable to sell it without power. Residents, unable to heat or cool food, are limited to canned items and what they obtain from charitable groups.
More than one hundred Southern Baptist disaster relief units are serving along the Texas Gulf Coast and farther inland, with SBTC volunteers continuing relief for hurricane evacuees in Tyler, Livingston, Lufkin, Port Arthur, and Huntsville through feeding and chaplaincy, SBTC Disaster Relief director Jim Richardson said.
Ike's wide and destructive swath was "catastrophic," Richardson said, spreading its damage east of Galveston into Louisiana and north into deep East Texas along much of the same area that Hurricane Rita devastated in September 2005.
David R. Brumbelow, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Highlands, just east of Houston near the Houston Ship Channel, chose to stay home rather than evacuate, chronicling his experience in several pages of notes. He said his church and home sustained some damage, but it was a mistake not to stock up on more food or to retrieve his generator that was seventy-five miles from his home early last week. He spent Sunday night at the church because his home was still without power.
"The force and longevity of Hurricane Ike was incredible," Brumbelow wrote. "It seemed it would never end. From start to finish it lasted a good fourteen hours."
Baptist relief efforts continue in Louisiana as well, with eighty-one units still serving there. Caison said feeding operations are scaling back in that state, but chainsaw and flood recovery activities remain a high priority.
However, some churches in southern Louisiana that weathered Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav may have been done in by Ike's onslaught.
J.P. Miles, director of missions for the Carey Baptist Association, said, "My hope for my Coast is that we can look at [this] as a new direction: How can we do ministry effectively but not necessarily with buildings? Our mindset as Southern Baptists is that we need a brick building on a corner, and it's hard to get past that."
Joe Arnold, director of missions in Bayou Baptist Association southwest of New Orleans, said fifteen thousand homes in the region were flooded by Ike — five thousand more than were flooded by Rita in 2005.
"Longtime pastors tell me they've never seen the water this high," Arnold said. "I've got eleven churches that were strongly impacted."
"Some of them feel like, 'I don't know if I can go through this again.' They still know their strength comes from the Lord, but it's part of the grief process: 'Here we go again, three years later. We just got to where we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and now this.'"
Arnold would like partnerships to develop between churches in Bayou Baptist Association and churches elsewhere. "I have three churches that were limping already," Arnold said. "If they don't get partnerships, they're not going to open again. When you're limping and fall into the water, it's hard to get up again."
To donate to the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief fund, visit www.namb.net and click the Disaster Relief icon.
Compiled from reporting by Karen Willoughby, managing editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention; Jerry Pierce, managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention; and Mike Ebert, coordinator of publications and media relations for the North American Mission Board.