Hurricane Idalia moved offshore of the North Carolina coast Thursday (Aug. 31) after making landfall in Florida’s Big Bend the morning of Aug. 30 as a Category 3 storm and rolling across northern Florida, South Georgia and South Carolina, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power, downing trees and generating flash floods in its wake.
So far, officials have cited the storm as the cause of death for at least three victims, two in Florida and one in Georgia.
Multiple state Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams have geared up to respond to those in need following Hurricane Idalia. On Thursday morning, Send Relief sent a semi-truck loaded with emergency meals, bottled water, mold remediation, protective personal equipment and other emergency supplies to support the response in Florida and South Georgia.
Volunteer teams from Florida, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina plan to set up feeding and response sites over the weekend throughout the Big Bend region of Florida where the storm hit hardest. The storm moved through South Georgia as a Category 2 before weakening into a tropical storm as it entered South Carolina.
Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Director Dwain Carter told The Christian Index the deployment includes mobile kitchen crews, heavy equipment operators, chainsaw teams, chaplains, family care volunteers, mobile laundromats and shower units.
“Our teams are seeing lots of trees down,” Carter said. “There’s still no power in a lot of the area. Communications are very spotty at best. I would guess we’ll be there a minimum of three weeks.”
Send Relief’s Valdosta Ministry Center utilized a mobile kitchen to feed first responders in Valdosta, Georgia, on Aug. 30, and they will continue to provide meals as needed over the next few days. Georgia SBDR anticipates establishing a site in the city to assist with the recovery, as only 30% of Valdosta residents had power as of Thursday.
‘Our faith is strong’
Meanwhile back in Florida, Hurricane Idalia’s strong winds toppled the steeple on Lakeside Baptist Church in Perry, but the storm did dampen the faith of Lakeside members.
As the storm unleashed its ferocity on the small rural community Aug. 30, Lakeside Baptist’s tin roof was ripped off and its steeple dashed to the ground.
Pastor Christopher Arnold’s response was a simple three words, “We’re extremely blessed.”
He spoke of how no large oaks surrounding the church came down; only limbs dotted the church yard. Although the tin roof was a tattered mess, the wood under the tin was intact, protecting the interior of the building from water damage. The steeple can be reattached to its proper resting place. There were no reports of storm-related deaths in the community as of Thursday.
“Our faith is strong,” said Arnold, who also is a Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer. “Our members are out in the community helping their neighbors with clean up.”
Prior to the hurricane’s landfall, Arnold reminded his church members, “Jesus stills the storm.” Lakeside members did not pray for the storm to go somewhere else; they prayed for God’s protection and preservation.
“The power of prayer really works,” Arnold said.
‘Working side by side’
The pastor explained that the church is located in a logging community. Many church members and residents own chainsaws, skidders, loaders and tractors. Within an hour of the storm’s onslaught, neighbors were working side by side — cutting fallen trees and hauling debris. By afternoon nearly every road was opened for travel, he said.
And Arnold was right beside his hardworking church members. The pastor is a newly minted Disaster Relief volunteer. He had no idea that his first “callout” would be to his own community.
On Thursday, volunteers were setting up a disaster relief command center at First Baptist Church of Perry, just a few miles away from Lakeside Baptist Church. If church members there are not in the church building for worship on Sunday, Pastor Arnold said he knows where they will be.
They will be in the community “being” the church, helping their neighbors in need.
Ways to help
For more information on how you can help, check with your church, association or state Baptist convention to find out how they are contributing to ongoing relief efforts in Hawaii, your state and beyond. To contact your state convention for more information, click here. Or, for more information about Send Relief, click here.