After its Saturday morning landfall in North Carolina, the storm pounded Virginia and a number of Northeastern states, including New York, New Jersey and Vermont, causing billions of dollars in damage.
Less than 24 hours after Irene crashed ashore on North Carolina's coast, North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) staff and volunteers were already mapping out a plan of action.
Richard Brunson, NCBM executive director, said the hardest-hit areas in the state appear to be near Pamlico Sound, Carteret County and the Outer Banks. Trained NCBM assessors have been on the ground since Saturday night and early Sunday morning surveying the damage and helping identify the greatest needs.
"In any disaster, we try to find out where we are needed most, and we have to base that on good information. We rely on our assessors to help us make these decisions," Brunson said. "Then we find hubs where we can serve out of. Places where volunteers can eat and sleep, and then go out into surrounding communities to work."
NCBM will set up feeding/recovery units at First Baptist Church in New Bern; Memorial Baptist Church in Williamston; and Manteo Baptist Church. NCBM will set up its state recovery unit at The Memorial Baptist Church in Greenville. Those units are slated to be ready for feeding by Monday.
Brunson expects to feed about 5,000 meals per day at each of the sites. He said NCBM also is looking at doing satellite feeding in Buxton, part of North Carolina's Outer Banks. That relief effort may, depending on road damage and accessibility, involve using helicopters to bring in food. This plan, if needed, will be coordinated with Emergency Management and other NCBM partners.
Brunson said sometimes the hardest-hit areas lack good communication, so adding even more feeding and recovery sites is a possibility.
"It is too early at this point to know how long the feeding units will be needed," Brunson said. "We expect at least a week. How soon people are able to get power back to their homes will play a large part in determining that. However, we expect the recovery process to be much longer."
Local churches and associations are already helping with chainsaw work and debris removal, and disaster relief teams from nearby states are ready to come and help if necessary. NCBM also has provided two sleeper units to the Air Wing Guard stationed in Kinston, who are doing aerial evaluations of the damage and helping assess the needs.
Milton Hollifield, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, issued a statement Aug. 29, noting, "Even in the midst of loss and suffering, we can give praise to our God. Based on predicted storm conditions, N.C. residents and emergency recovery personnel recognize the losses could have been much worse along the coastal areas of our state if some of the wind conditions had not changed.
"I am thankful that staff members and volunteers working with North Carolina Baptist Men responded quickly with every possible effort to assist families who have lost property and lives," Hollifield continued. "I am grateful for the way they stay ready to serve hurting and hungry people in times of need. There are many trees down and we have had a lot of flooding in eastern N.C. due to Hurricane Irene. There are a number of areas in N.C. that could be without power for a week or more. We are appreciative of assistance from President Kevin Ezell and the staff of the North American Mission Board as they are prepared to help us in coordinating additional volunteer support that Southern Baptists in other Baptist state conventions are offering."
"Thank you for your prayers," Brunson said to Southern Baptists in a BSCNC news release. "Although this storm had the potential to affect more people in more parts of our state, we still have many people who need help and who need volunteers to quickly respond. Please continue praying that we will be able to meet physical needs and that, as we do so, we can share the love of Christ."
Brunson also expressed appreciation to all North Carolina Baptists who make NCBM disaster relief ministry possible.
"The faithful giving of North Carolina Baptists to the North Carolina Missions Offering keeps this ministry going," he said. "We are thankful not only for your willingness to go and serve during disasters such as Irene, but for your sacrificial giving that makes it possible for us to respond in times of disaster."
Interested volunteers can visit the NCBM's www.baptistsonmission.org website to sign up. NCBM will contact them as soon as assessments are made where they can be of most help. To donate to NCBM Hurricane Irene relief efforts, visit www.baptistsonmission.org
Melissa Lilley is research and communications coordinator for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
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