New Eng. disaster relief: 'a chance to shine'

Baptist Press
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Posted: Jun 08, 2011 5:52 PM
New Eng. disaster relief: 'a chance to shine'
BRIMFIELD, Mass. (BP)--Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is ramping up in New England a week after three tornadoes ripped across western Massachusetts from Springfield to Brimfield, killing four and impacting 19 communities.

The EF3 tornado that severely damaged Springfield June 1 remained on the ground for 40 miles or an estimated 70 minutes, with wind speeds clocked at nearly 160 miles an hour.

About 30 Southern Baptist volunteers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, Maine and the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga., have been on the scene.

Working out of an Incident Command Center set up at Friendship Baptist Church in Brimfield, Mass., they are staffing Southern Baptist recovery, incident command, feeding, assessment and shower units. A chaplaincy unit from Kentucky is en route.

Although community residents are cleaning up on their own, Bruce James, disaster relief director for the Baptist Convention of New England, said the 30 volunteers already are doing chainsaw work and assessment.

"We're past the rescue stage and now into recovery," James said. "This is a great opportunity for Baptists because we're going to be here two or three weeks. We can make impressions on these people and their lives. God has given us an open door and a chance to shine. But we have to respond fast because the window of opportunity for tornadoes is not that big.

"It's amazing to see the opportunity we get through disaster relief and the gratitude of the community leaders. It shows them what the church is about, what we Baptists do. It increases our value in the eyes of New Englanders," James said. "And that's something they value up here -- what you bring to the community."

James said local flooding during the spring of 2010 prompted a large Southern Baptist response, "but the devastation of these tornadoes is the biggest thing I've ever dealt with during my five years in disaster relief. It's almost overwhelming."

While James directs the tornado disaster relief Incident Command Center in Massachusetts, fellow disaster relief coordinator John Scoggins is in Williston, Vt., where massive flooding from Lake Champlain has impacted 11 counties in that state.

"After waiting three weeks for the waters to recede, we're just now getting in," Scoggins said. "We've had unprecedented flooding from Lake Champlain because of melting snow. The lake crested five feet above flood stage, the highest it's ever been in the 240 years since they've kept records."

Burlington, home of the University of Vermont, was hit especially hard by the flooding. Montpelier, the state's capital, and the nearby town of Barre, also recently experienced flashfloods from sudden thunderstorms.

"We're trying to respond to both," Scoggins said, adding that more than 980 local residents have called, asking for assistance after flood damage to homes and property. "We've got 35 mud-out jobs ready to work, with about 500 yet to screen."

So far, Scoggins said his team consists of only 30 volunteers -- 20 mud-out workers and 10 assessors -- and help from other states is needed. Disaster relief volunteers from the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia are doing mud-out work in the Barre area and have committed to rotating in new mud-out teams over the coming weeks. A Maryland/Delaware shower and laundry unit is supporting the Virginia teams in Barre.

"We need more volunteers for mud-out, administrative support and incident command," Scoggins said.

Southern Baptist volunteers in Vermont are based at Christ Memorial Church in Williston, the largest SBC church in Vermont.

"According to polls over the last five or so years, Vermont has been called the least churched state in the nation," Scoggins noted. "Only 2 percent of the population has any relationship with Christ. So this is an opportunity for us to walk the walk and show them Christ's love."

Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. To donate to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, go to www.namb.net and click the "donate now" 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. Checks should be designated for "Storms 2011." Donations also can 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 prepaid balance.

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