Fla. Baptists prepare for Fay's wind & rain

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)--Florida Baptists are readying for Tropical Storm Fay as she continues to shift course in the Florida straits.

Southern Haiti was soaked by Fay before the storm crossed Cuba early Aug. 18. With winds at 60 miles per hour, Fay was projected to make landfall on the Florida Keys late Monday, though the exact path it will take across the state remains unclear.

"The wavering path of Faye is still frustrating the computers, Hurricane Center and TV Weather personalities," said Fritz Wilson, director of the Florida Baptist Convention's disaster relief and recovery department. "Regardless of the path, it remains clear that Fay will be mostly a rain event."

In anticipation of the hazards the heavy rainfall will produce, Florida's governor, Charlie Crist, issued a state of emergency for Florida Aug. 16 that will remain in effect until Aug. 26.

Wilson believes flash flooding and small tornadoes to be the biggest threats to the state.

"We are watching the Keys and the Miami/Fort Lauderdale areas but do not foresee this becoming a Hurricane Charlie or Wilma type of event," Wilson said. "We do not expect to call upon out-of-state units. Our trained volunteers in each association will be able to respond locally."

Fritz said the Florida convention's disaster relief department's plan is to keep convention staff on alert but to ask them to continue with their previously calendared events.

Disaster relief teams will be placed on alert as needed. The two state feeding units are prepared to activate if needed, but "the most likely scenario is that the feeding need will be very localized and we will use local teams in church kitchens," Wilson said.

Florida Baptist disaster relief is one of 39 Southern Baptist Convention response teams based in the United States and Canada. Florida's 5,000 volunteers are trained to provide a variety of humanitarian relief, such as storm clean-up, mobile feeding stations, drinking water purification and emergency child care.

Part of the 2008 disaster relief training in Florida has been to improve the ability of these volunteers to respond to local disasters.

"I am seeing evidence of that training working," Wilson said, "as a large number of the local trained volunteers have been preparing to help their areas. It appears that that is what this situation will call for."

Meanwhile, one of the Florida convention's staff members was in Haiti as the storm grazed the island.

Craig Culbreth, director of the partnership mission department, was in the interior of Haiti when the storm passed through. Though the wind did little damage, it was the fast-falling rain that became a problem for the impoverished island nation.

"What were once creeks you could walk across became wide rivers and made travel difficult," said Culbreth, who returned to Florida Sunday.

Haiti's Baptist directors currently are in the field assessing damage to churches and homes. A report will be issued later this week.

"We will probably do a distribution of food because many of the gardens were washed away and that is their source of income as well as food," Culbreth said. "Because it is just the southern region, the operation will be simpler. We will distribute out of local churches."

Through the distribution, each family is given enough rice for four people for four days. The Florida Baptist Convention is not seeking donations for this effort at this time.

"I am really thankful for the organization that Florida Baptists have to be able to respond in such a timely manner in such a difficult place and that we are prepared for such an event as this," Culbreth said. "I would just ask for the prayers of Florida Baptists for the people of Haiti, as many are wondering what they will do to survive."


Lauren Urtel is a writer for the Florida Baptist Convention.

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