RICHMOND, Va. -- As Hurricane Irene continued its destructive track north Aug. 28, Baptist relief agencies in the Mid-Atlantic began deploying volunteers in the region, which was left with rising water and little electricity in the wake of the storm.
At sites along the Virginia and North Carolina coasts, recovery teams readied themselves to offer hot meals, remove downed trees and clean up flooded homes and businesses.
Though Irene proved to be far less damaging than originally predicted, at least 24 deaths were attributed to the storm and it cut electricity to more than 1 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina, and several hundred thousand in Maryland and the District of Columbia. Storm surges and heavy rainfall caused extensive flooding along the coast and beside rivers.
Virginia Baptists’ disaster relief ministry sent a feeding unit Aug. 29 to hard hit King and Queen County, Va., near the Chesapeake Bay, which the American Red Cross will use to distribute about 7,000 meals daily over the next week. A shower unit was deployed to Richmond County, just across the Rappahannock River, for the army of repair crews attempting to restore power to residents there.
Another feeding unit was set up late Aug. 28 on the parking lot of the Virginia Baptist Resource Center in Richmond, Va., which began preparing meals for distribution in several counties south of the city will without electricity.
“Some of our people are out making assessments right now, but thankfully the situation isn’t as bad as we thought even as late as Saturday afternoon [as the storm hit the region] it would be,” said Dean Miller, who coordinates disaster relief for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
“There’s a lot of power outage. A lot of downed trees. And there’s some concern about the Blackwater River flooding near Franklin [Va.]. That may crest late Monday or Tuesday, and if so we’ll probably be in that area as well.”
North Carolina Baptist Men deployed recovery units Aug. 28 at four locations on or near the North Carolina coast -- Greenville, Manteo, New Bern and Williamston -- and likely will set up feeding units in all but Greenville, where the recovery unit will be stationed at The Memorial Baptist Church.
“Those four locations are pretty centrally located,” said Richard Brunson, director of North Carolina Baptist Men. “We can house volunteers there and they can be at the worst hit areas within 30 to 40 minutes.”
Brunson said there was considerable flooding in communities along the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, and extensive tree downings.
In New Bern, where First Baptist Church is hosting the disaster relief operation, there is widespread flooding within five miles of the church, said Steve Winn, a church member who is working closely with North Carolina Baptist Men.
“All the way from Morehead [City, N.C.] to the Virginia border there’s flooding,” Winn said. “We’ll be helping with that and also working to get trees off the roofs before any additional rains come through.”
Like many congregations across the region, First Baptist in New Bern cancelled worship services Sunday morning. From North Carolina to Maryland, lack of electricity and streets blocked by downed trees and power lines prompted churches to close for the day. Others -- encouraged by the blue skies and mild weather on the morning after the storm -- worshipped in sanctuaries with open windows and doors.
Zoar Baptist Church in Deltaville, Va. -- whose sanctuary was destroyed by a tornado last April -- cancelled Sunday services, which are being held on the beach while the church is rebuilt. The hurricane caused no significant damage to the church’s renovation project, said Juanita Glascock, Zoar’s administrative assistant.
In Washington, D.C., which was lashed by Irene, the District of Columbia Baptist Convention was assessing damage to its affiliated churches to determine of a response was needed from outside partners, said executive director Ricky Creech.
Creech, who was elected to the position last March, said he is in the “middle stages” of designing the convention’s first disaster response units.
“The [Aug. 23] earthquake and Irene have given leverage to this new venture,” he said.
While neither the Virginia nor North Carolina affiliates of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are first responders, both were urging volunteers to work closely with Baptist relief agencies in their states.
Rob Fox, CBFVA field coordinator, said he was in contact with the national CBF as it assessed the situation in the Mid-Atlantic.
CBFNC’s executive coordinator, Larry Hovis, said his staff had “tried calling all pastors of churches located on or near the coast to assess damage and assure them of prayers and support.”
“We haven’t discovered significant damage or need yet but will continue to reach out to the churches,” he said.
In an Aug. 29 e-mail communication, CBFNC said, “We continue to value our partnership with North Carolina Baptist Men and encourage partner churches to participate in relief and recovery efforts through them.”