After torrential rains from Hurricane Irene's remnants transformed mountain streams and rivers into raging floodwaters, the Associated Press reported that about 260 of Vermont's roadways and 30 highway bridges are closed, and National Guard helicopters have begun airlifting relief supplies to towns impacted by the deluge of water.
"There are whole towns that are cut off," Terry Dorsett, director of missions for the Green Mountain Baptist Association, told Baptist Press. "There are little mountain villages where there's only one road or two roads in and out, and if the road's washed away or the bridge went out, then there's just no way to get in and out of them."
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams are en route to Vermont to assess the damage and determine the best ways to help.
"We're really working to get a very clear picture and some footprints of where we can stage activity," said Tim Buehner, assistant disaster relief coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England (BCNE). "We of course look to first and foremost aid our local churches and connect them through these services" as a point of ministry in their communities.
SBDR plans to set up an incident command center in southern Vermont, the hardest-hit area of the state, and an operations center farther north. Disaster relief efforts, which likely will entail teams from other states, will be centered around Capstone Baptist Church in Bennington and Mettowee Valley Church in West Pawlet. A BCNE mud-out team and trailer unit already has been mobilized to provide initial assistance.
Local Vermont churches, meanwhile, are taking the lead, Dorsett reported. When one Baptist mud-out unit became stranded due to the floods, Dorsett said volunteers began using shovels and their own trucks to clear waterlogged basements and help find drinking water.
A major issue is that many Vermont residents don't have flood insurance, and with winter six weeks away, flooded basement furnaces are out of commission.
In an email to Baptist Press, Dorsett told of the two grandparents, the Bennetts, raising their grandchildren on Social Security. Water had flooded their basement up to the rafters, so the grandmother stomped on the floor in each room and prayed in Jesus' name that the water wouldn't flood the rest of the house.
"When was inches away, it began to recede even though the storm was still raging outside," Dorsett wrote. "But now they have no furnace, no hot water heater, no electrical panel, no well pump and no money. But they have a faith that can move mountains."
Dorsett said churches already are taking up offerings and seeking other ways to assist those like the Bennetts whose uninsured homes were damaged.
"Our churches have really done a great job of just stepping up to the plates," Dorsett wrote. "Eventually the Southern Baptist relief organizations will get here, but until then, we can't just sit and wait. We have to do some stuff until reinforcements arrive."
Dorsett knows of three churches with water damage, but two of the cases were relatively minor and have already been remedied.
"We have some folks who are trained , but most of our folks are just doing it," he said.
Jim Wideman, BCNE executive director, said no reports have come in from Maine, New Hampshire or Connecticut, and information from Rhode Island has been spotty.
"We're hearing from some people that there's extensive damage, but when we talk to some of our pastors in the area, they're saying, 'We don't see that much damage,'" Wideman said.
Buehner requested prayers for clarity and wisdom for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, that God will show them the best places to direct their efforts.
"This kind of work is Jesus Christ and love in action here to New Englanders, and it defines what servant Baptists are about," Buehner said. "And that's a really, really powerful and good image for us as we continue to plant churches and work in these communities to bring people to Christ."
John Evans is a writer in Houston.
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