RICHMOND, Va. -- Tornadoes kept Virginia Baptists’ disaster relief ministries on its toes during the first half of April, as severe weather caused damage in two widely-separated parts of the state -- along the Chesapeake Bay and in the mountains of Southwest Virginia.
A tornado that wreaked havoc in North Carolina April 16 moved north along Virginia’s coast, damaging Chesapeake Bay communities before heading out to sea. Though no severe injuries were reported, at least one Baptist church -- Zoar in Deltaville, Va. -- saw its sanctuary destroyed by the twister.
On April 20, disaster relief ministries will send a shower unit to Providence Baptist Church in Hayes, Va., to support the congregation’s relief efforts in the Gloucester County community, said Dean Miller, who coordinates disaster relief for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
“We haven’t triggered an official response in that area yet, but we’re monitoring the situation,” said Miller. “I had a conversation with one of the regional disaster relief coordinators who explained that there are many churches that are coordinating their own efforts and are responding to the needs of their own communities rather well. At least four congregations affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia are providing work teams from their own membership to respond to the needs of those affected. We stand ready to assist these churches as they respond. The shower unit is one example.”
Though Virginia Baptists are not mobilizing volunteers for the area, Miller said people interested in offering help can call the Virginia Department of Emergency Management volunteer center at 757.232.4819 or the non-profit group Operation Blessing at 757.374.0944.
Meanwhile in Pulaski County, Virginia Baptist volunteers are completing initial relief operations after two tornadoes touched down there April 8, causing more than $9 million in damage. About 10 people were injured and more than 400 structures in the town of Pulaski – the county seat -- were damaged.
“The Virginia Department of Emergency Management asked Virginia Baptists to take the lead in coordinating all volunteer work in Pulaski,” Miller told members of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board at their April 12 meeting.
Most of the work involved cutting trees, removing debris and assessing damage, he said. “There was a total of 96 jobs and Virginia Baptist volunteers took care of about a third of them.”
Dublin (Va.) Baptist Church, about eight miles from Pulaski, housed and fed Virginia Baptist volunteers. Most workers have returned home, but a laundry unit remains in place for residents whose washing machines and dryers are damaged or destroyed.
In the next few weeks Pulaski County administrators will release a long-term strategy for recovery, Miller said. “We plan to find ways to plug into that.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell asked President Obama April 18 for a federal disaster declaration for the county, which would qualify its residents for low-interest loans, grants and housing assistance. Miller said county officials are awaiting the results of that request before finalizing their recovery plan.