By David Dawson
FRANKLIN — While numerous Tennessee Baptist disaster relief volunteers are continuing to assist the flood recovery efforts in their home state, other DR teams are being dispatched to Louisiana to serve those impacted by Hurricane Ida.
In both places, people are hurting. And in both places, Tennessee Baptist DR teams are meeting needs — physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Over the past few weeks, a large number of DR volunteers have played pivotal roles in Humphreys County, where severe flooding left a trail of destruction on the morning of Aug. 21. The towns of Waverly and McEwen were among the hardest hit by the storm, and parts of Johnson County also experienced extensive damage. The flooding resulted in at least 20 deaths according to published reports.
Roughly one week later, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, causing damage throughout parts of the state.
Here’s an update on how DR teams are serving — and will be serving — in the aftermath of these storms.
Hurricane Ida, classified as a high-end Category 4 storm, made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 29, triggering flooding in Northeast Louisiana. The storm included wind gusts over 100 mph, and homes were reportedly removed from their foundations as flooding swamped areas south of New Orleans.
Recovery efforts in the affected areas started shortly after the storms, and Tennessee DR teams will be involved for months.
“The response in Louisiana will be long and difficult,” said Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Jones said the following groups are needed as soon as possible: tarping teams, chain saw teams and laundry trailer teams, along with assessors and chaplains (who would work together in pairs). Other teams — such as feeding teams and flood recovery teams — will also be needed in the days ahead. Jones said those who are interested in helping with the mass feeding units should contact Jim Ramey at 423-579-2435.
WAVERLY AND JOHNSON CITY
Tennessee Baptist DR teams were among the first responders following the flooding in Waverly, and many volunteers have remained there for about three weeks. More than 215 work orders have been completed, and the DR teams are now closing the “Response Phase” of the recovery process.
“I cannot say, ‘thank you’ enough for all the teams, churches and individuals who have shown up to support the Flood Response in Waverly,” said Jones. “I want to especially thank Kathy and Brock Henry, and Bill Lowe, who have overseen the operation.”
Jones noted that the DR teams “will (have) more work to do in the future with the ‘Long Term Recovery Group’ that works with homeowners (and) assists with putting homes back in order,” he said. “As this gets set up, we will be looking for construction teams that can help put the sheetrock and other items back.”
Jones said the team from East Tennessee, which had been working in Johnson County, was scheduled to finish their work in the area by Sept. 10.
“I want to thank them for the long days they have had driving back and forth and the work they have accomplished,” he said, noting that Jack Thrall led the efforts in that area.
In Waverly, First Baptist Church has been serving as the flagship distribution center and temporary shelter throughout the recovery process.
Scott Brown, pastor of FBC Waverly, said the church is transitioning into the “next step” of the process. After spearheading the movement in the first three weeks after the storm — providing medical attention, serving as a shelter, and supplying food and other needed items — the church is shifting its focus to long-term needs, Brown said.
“Right now, we are making adjustments and trying to kind of figure out our groove as we move through the different phases,” said Brown.
Brown noted that the church is no longer serving as a shelter after being able to find temporary housing — in hotels — for the displaced families who were staying at the church.
“That was huge for us, because that allowed us to stop being (on duty) 24/7,” Brown said. “We were able to transition from that schedule to more ‘regular’ hours.”
Brown said several FBC volunteers are dealing with COVID after being exposed to the virus during the recovery efforts.
“We had exposure to a couple of people who came to the shelter and they later tested positive. So that has knocked out a lot of volunteers. But, praise God, from what we’ve heard so far, the cases have been mild.”
The church’s distribution center has been open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the early days of September. Beginning Sept. 13, those hours will change from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Brown said.
“Those will be the hours that we are officially accepting donations,” Brown said. “Of course, we will make exceptions. If someone shows up with a bag of clothes and check for $10,000, well, we will take those clothes and the check,” Brown said with a laugh.
The distribution center will be closed on the weekends — which wasn’t the case during the first weeks after the flood.
“It’s a constant evolution (in terms of the church’s role),” said Brown. “It’s about being flexible and adaptable, and just making adjustments according to what we observe.
“We’ve got some (volunteers) who have probably gone too hard over the past two and a half weeks, and they’ve kind of hit a wall. Some of them are just exhausted,” he added.
Brown said he and other church leaders are looking ahead and trying to envision what the coming weeks will look like.
“We are hoping to eventually diminish our role to the point of no longer being a distribution center — but that might be weeks or even a couple of months from now,” Brown said. “My hope, or maybe my dream, is that by (the end of October), we will be out of shipping and receiving, and move more toward doing some of the other things we are doing — like getting people financial help and helping them find homes and that sort of thing.”
Each year, FBC hosts one of the biggest church-based Fall festivals in the state. The event is a major outreach and evangelism program for FBC. Brown said the church will host the event this year, even if FBC is still heavily involved with the flood recovery efforts: “We know that if we miss a year, we probably won’t ever be able to get it going again,” he said. B&R
HOW TO GIVE: To give and assist in the flood response in Tennessee or to aid those impacted by Hurricane Ida, please visit www.tndisasterrelief.org and click on the “Give Now” button or send gifts to TBMB, P.O. Box 682789, Franklin, TN 37068.