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Harvey response begins amid widespread flooding

A Texas Baptist Men mobile kitchen team moved with Texas task force operations from city to city, serving breakfast as they conducted rescue operations. This photo shows the team serving breakfast at 5:30 in the morning just before they packed up and traveled to Rosenburg at 8:55. (Photo courtesy of TBM’s Facebook page)

HOUSTON, TX (BP) – As of Monday morning, news outlets reported that Hurricane Harvey had already dropped 11 trillion gallons of rain over south Texas. More than 300,000 customers were without power. Officials have declared 62 counties disaster areas as the initial destruction caused by 132 mph wind gusts has been showered with unprecedented levels of rainfall. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) expected some of the hardest-hit regions to be accessible only to search and rescue teams.

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief (SBTC DR) teams reported they were still in a holding pattern as flooding closed numerous roads. Many of the rivers had not yet crested to their expected flood levels. As that happens, the number of road closings is expected to go up, making it even more difficult to send recovery units. Daniel White of the SBTC DR team said, "I have been hearing reports from different people that this may be worse than Hurricane Katrina. It may be the largest national disaster in U.S. history. I have never seen anything like this in my time in disaster relief."

SBTC DR Units are "ready to roll" into Rockport and Corpus Christi, White said. They have dispatched laundry units to Latham Springs Baptist Camp and Retreat Center in Aquila where nearly 500 special needs evacuees have been settled. Mass care feeding, administration and water treatment units were preparing to set up in Houston along with several DR chaplains. Once the floodwater starts to recede, SBTC DR will be ready with cleanup and recovery as well as flood response teams.

Texas Baptist Men (TBM) has faced similar challenges getting teams into heavily flooded areas. In Robstown on the outskirts of Corpus Christi, teams set up a shower and laundry unit as well as a rapid response kitchen. One kitchen unit has been embedded with the search and rescue responders, going from city to city and feeding first responders as they conducted rescue operations. Also along the coast, TBM teams were able to set up a feeding unit near Victoria, 30 miles outside of the Port Lavaca area. In both Uvalde and Texas City, the county judge asked for teams to help with the evacuees and victims located there.

TBM has set up shower stations as far inland as San Antonio. Stations were also set up in LaGrange, west of Houston, in order to assist evacuees there. As TBM prepares to move into Houston, they have been tasked with providing meals for those sheltered in Houston's George Brown Convention Center. They expect to provide at least 20,000 meals a day. Very soon, they will be moving into Katy and The Woodlands, suburbs of Houston, as the water has started to recede.

Terry Henderson, disaster relief director for TBM, echoed White's sentiments regarding the significance of the storm. "I would compare this to Katrina or bigger," Henderson said. "Our response is running smoother thanks to new technology, but this storm will probably affect a larger area than Katrina did."

Leading up to the storm, Southern Baptists collaborated with the American Red Cross (ARC) to determine the best strategy for sending aid. The North American Mission Board's Send Relief team will continue to work with ARC as Southern Baptists prepare to send volunteer teams.

A call for volunteers and prayer

There are several ways Southern Baptists can and will help out in the coming days, weeks and months. In addition to traditional SBDR roles, NAMB's Send Relief will be mobilizing up to 4,000 volunteers to serve in storm shelters, feeding kitchens, childcare units and in other capacities. Experience in disaster relief is not required but background checks are necessary for those willing to serve in childcare.

Send Relief is currently waiting for specific instructions from government officials as to when it will be safe to enter affected areas, but volunteers and churches can email to be added to the "mobilization ready" list. SBDR and Send Relief will be providing long-term aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Cleanup response teams will be mudding out houses and chainsaw crews will be clearing fallen limbs. Beyond that, Southern Baptists anticipate being involved in rebuild efforts to assist homeowners.

"There are some events that mark a time in history for generations to come," said Kevin Ezell, NAMB's president. "I believe Hurricane Harvey is one of those events and Southern Baptists will be known by the way we respond." Donate online to SBDR or Send Relief by giving here. You can also text SENDRELIEF to 41444 to aid the residents of the Texas coast.

Pray for the survivors of Hurricane Harvey as well as for those who are working diligently to respond in the wake of this tragic storm. Pray for the first responders, aid workers and the volunteers who will be working tirelessly to restore the communities affected by the storm.

Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO, said in a statement over the weekend, "Our prayers go out to the people of Texas in the massive flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. Our Baptist disaster relief units will be the first on the scene to minister in a variety of ways. I call on Southern Baptists to pray and be ready to assist through giving and going. God bless Texas."

Steve Gaines, SBC president, also issued a statement: "Our prayers are ascending to the Lord on behalf of all who are suffering and endangered by the hurricane and its effects in and around the Houston area. Our Southern Baptist volunteers are prepared to help those who are in need. We will pray and we will serve in every way possible in the days to come."



Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.


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