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Re-flooding in Northeast stymies Baptist DR

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) -- Southern Baptist Disaster Relief coordinators are being forced to re-calibrate response plans for the Northeast because of a second round of flooding caused by heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Lee, which has forced the evacuation of as many as 120,000 residents in Pennsylvania and New York.

The flooding of the Susquehanna River -- expected to crest as high as 41 feet -- caused the evacuation of some 100,000 residents in the Wyoming Valley, Pa., area, including up to 75,000 in Wilkes-Barre. Another 6,000-10,000 people evacuated homes in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital.

As a result of the Susquehanna flooding -- plus the nearby Chenango River -- another 20,000 were evacuated from Binghamton, N.Y. (pop. 47,000), where water covered downtown streets and climbed halfway up lampposts. Residents are evacuating via buses and boats, with National Guard helicopters on standby, according to news reports.

Pennsylvania is seeing the third-highest flooding in the state's history. The one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee generated rainfall so torrential that the Susquehanna River hasn't been this high since 1972, when Hurricane Agnes hit the area.

Some of the same areas flooded out by Irene two weeks ago are again inundated by the heavy rains generated by Lee. SBDR leaders know there's plenty of mud-out and chainsaw work yet to do but until the water begins to recede, recovery work is impossible.

DR efforts also are being hampered by unrelenting rain in Maryland, where hundreds of people were ordered to leave Havre de Grace and Port Deposit, Md.

"We have chainsaw teams in Leonardtown (Md.) who can't do more than watch the rain come down," said Ellen Udovich, disaster relief director for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. "It's frustrating for them since they have 112 jobs still open. We just need it to stop raining so we can get the work done."


Ed Greene, SBDR's incident commander for upper New York State, said not only is flooding closing roads but mudslides are as well.

"We have 179 roads closed in New York State, 25 bridges out and 20,000 without power," Greene said from Washingtonville. "It's pretty widespread. Flooding is everywhere and it's hard to get around. Hundreds of homes originally flooded by Irene have been re-flooded by the tropical storm. And we have no recovery teams in place."

Greene said hard-hit areas around Prattsville, Middleburg, Schoharie and Margaretville, N.Y., were evacuated on Thursday (Sept. 8).

"It's going to get worse," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who urged residents to heed the evacuation orders rather than wait until the flood danger is obvious.

SBDR feeding units from state Baptist conventions in New York, Mississippi, Virginia (SBCV and VBMB), Florida, Maryland, North Carolina and Kentucky have now prepared and delivered some 284,000 meals since Irene struck the East Coast on Aug. 28.

Because of the new flooding and evacuation in Binghamton, the Red Cross has requested that the SBDR feeding unit from Kentucky -- based for the last week at Trinity Baptist Church in Schenectady -- increase its daily hot meal count to 8,000 and produce an additional 8,000 box lunches. With support from 125 volunteers from the New York Baptist Convention, the Kentucky Baptists were able to meet the Red Cross request. The Kentucky feeding unit already had been cooking 5,000-6,000 meals a day.


"As in the past, this again showed the Red Cross how fast, efficiently and flexibly Southern Baptists can react in times of disaster," said Bruce Poss, disaster coordinator for the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga.

Poss added that the Red Cross also has asked SBDR to deploy a 30,000-meal-a-day unit in the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., area -- a request which is under consideration.

In Maryland, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer visited Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers serving in areas devastated by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

"In the past several weeks, Maryland's 5th district has experienced tremendous damage as a result of extreme weather conditions," Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a statement Sept. 8. "This week's storms added an additional burden to those already impacted by Hurricane Irene and created new challenges that we must deal with in the days ahead."

Hoyer, who lives in Charlotte Hall, Md., added, "As I visited affected communities over the last week, I saw the overwhelming support of neighbors helping neighbors and know that spirit will continue as all of us at the local, state and federal level work to ensure that residents and businesses have the resources they need to address challenges in the wake of these storms."

Richard Logsdon, director of missions for the Potomac Baptist Association in Maryland, said Hoyer greeted relief volunteers and community members warmly.


"Basically, he thanked us for what we were doing," said Logsdon, who has been working closely with disaster relief efforts in the area.

Nineteen trees fell in Hoyer's own yard, Logsdon said, but neighbors assisted the congressman without help from disaster relief teams.

Teams from Tennessee, Kentucky and South Carolina, along with volunteers from the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, "have been well organized and a great blessing," Logsdon said.

As of Sept. 8, the teams had responded to more than 80 requests for help and had nearly 160 requests remaining.

"Some people still have trees on the roofs with holes that need to be fixed along with a vast number of homes with trees on the ground," Logsdon said.

In addition to meeting physical needs, Southern Baptists are helping area residents emotionally and spiritually.

"Among those were a whole family of three who committed their lives to Christ," Logsdon said. "The homes I have been at, the families are so grateful we are there. In most cases, they had nowhere else to turn for help. There will be a great opportunity to minister to these families well after the relief work is completed."

Steve Fehrman, pastor of Southern Calvert Baptist Church in Lusby, Md., lives in Chesapeake Ranch Estates where several hundred homes were damaged by fallen trees. Though he only had electric wires stripped from his house, his neighbor across the street had a tree fall on his deck. As the man attempted to leave for a safer shelter, another tree fell on his car.


"He thought his world was about to end," Fehrman said, noting that although the storm did a lot of damage, there was a positive: neighbors were meeting each other.

"The day after the hurricane, my wife came home from work and saw all of us neighbors talking in the yard," he said, explaining that she thought something was wrong.

"The storm actually brought us all together for the first time," he said, adding that he had been in the neighborhood for four years but hadn't had any open doors to reach out to his neighbors.

"It was a great opportunity to witness," Fehrman said. "The biggest blessing was to have our Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers helping out."

SBDR assets encompass 82,000 trained volunteers, including chaplains, and some 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the largest mobilizers of trained, credentialed disaster relief volunteers in the United States.

Southern Baptists and others who want to donate to NAMB's disaster relief fund can contact their respective state conventions or go to www.namb.net/disaster-relief-donations and hit the "donate" button. Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Donations can also be sent via texting "NAMBDR" to the number "40579." A one-time donation of $10 will be added to the caller's mobile phone bill or deducted from any repaid balance.


Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board; Shannon Baker is a national correspondent for BaptistLIFE www.baptistlifeonline.org newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. For more information on disaster relief efforts in the Maryland/Delaware convention, visit www.bcmd.org/hurricane-irene.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net


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