When weather forecasters predicted Hurricane Hermine would bring a tidal surge of about three feet from the Gulf of Mexico’s churning waters, Pastor Alan Ritter thought First Baptist Church of Homosassa would be safe from damage.  But when late-breaking news of the storm suggested a seven-foot tidal surge would hit the community located on the Homosassa River, the pastor faced the worst with little time for preparation. 

Now the Homosassa Church and at least three other Florida Baptist churches are cleaning up from damages sustained when the first hurricane to hit Florida in a decade made landfall on Florida’s Big Bend coast in the early morning hours Sept. 2. The storm caused severe damage across the state, knocking out power and flooding homes.

According to Delton Beall, Florida Baptist Disaster Relief director churches sustaining damage include Ozello Island in Crystal River, First Baptist Church of Horseshoe Beach and Blue Creek Baptist Church in Perry.

Dozens of Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers have been deployed to provide help and hope to the survivors of the storm on multiple fronts across the state.

Immediately after the storm had made landfall, Florida Governor Rick Scott thanked Florida Baptists on Friday for serving alongside the Florida Division of Emergency Management to help with emergency preparedness.

Within 24 hours after the storm, a feeding unit was stationed at Canopy Roads Baptist Church in Tallahassee to meet hunger needs across the region. Volunteers began preparing between 1,400 and 2,000 meals per day for the American Red Cross and others from the community who arrive at the church in need. For several days, the Florida volunteers provided food for senior adults living in a local nursing home.

Tommy Green, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, visited the feeding unit on Tuesday and called the volunteers “amazing servants of God.”

“I am grateful for those who are able to respond during times of need,” Green said. “Our Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers were serving meals by Saturday in Tallahassee. This immediate response demonstrates the love and compassion of Christ.”

After two days of assessors combing through the flooded communities along the Big Bend coast line from Keaton Beach to Homosassa, on Tuesday Florida disaster relief established a command center for cleanup and recovery response at First Baptist Church in Crystal River.

One of the biggest threats to homeowners after a flood is the dangerous mold that starts growing in the home. Florida volunteers travel with “mud-out” trailers loaded with pressure washers, disinfectant, buckets, shovels and other equipment needed to treat a home after it has been flooded. Mud, silt, damaged belongings and other debris must be removed along with any sheet rock damaged by the flooding. The process begins when flood waters recede and the drying-out process has begun.

As many as 80 families with no insurance in the Crystal River area have asked for help from Florida Baptists.

Requests have also surfaced in other communities across the state that were hard hit by the widespread winds and floods caused by Hermine. Local teams of trained DR volunteers are providing cleanup and recovery in Live Oak, Madison and Tallahassee.  A mobile shower unit was stationed in Crawfordville to help with needs in that community.

One Crystal River couple accepted Christ as Savior after the dedicated volunteers with servant hearts helped the couple and shared the gospel with them.  Another accepted Christ after the Tallahassee crew shared their faith.

“Three new people have been added to the Kingdom of God today,” said Beall. “It’s time to rejoice.”

Beall also noted additional recovery sites may be established in coming days. And potentially another feeding site may be activated in other areas of the state as needs arise.  He expects for the callout to extend for at least two weeks, although the Tallahassee feeding may end by Sept. 11.

This is the fourth callout for Florida Baptist volunteers to respond during the past 12 months. Teams of Florida DR volunteers had been serving in Baton Rouge when Hermine hit. Some volunteers on their way to Louisiana were stopped at the state line and others were called back home for deployment here.

Florida Baptist disaster relief is underwritten by funds to the Maguire State Mission Offering, which purchases equipment and preparedness. But additional funds are needed to support massive call-outs of volunteers and equipment.

To donate to the Florida Baptist DR relief effort send a check to the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207. Designate “Florida disaster relief.” To make a donation by credit card, call 800-226-8584, att. Mike Gilley, ext. 3047 or Flor Ramirez, ext. 3100.

Green commended Florida Baptists for their commitment to provide help and hope in time of disaster.  “Thank you Florida Baptists for your prayers, service and giving that enables this important ministry.”

by Barbara Denman