S.C. Baptists gear up to help Irma victims

South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are poised to provide assistance to victims of Hurricane Irma — at home, in Florida and in other parts of the Southeast.

Florida absorbed the brunt of Irma, although coastal areas of South Carolina saw near-record storm surges, and tropical storm-force winds downed trees across the state, knocking out electrical power to tens of thousands of residents.

Shower and laundry units were deployed by SCBDR to Ridgeland (to serve first responders), Columbia (at a shelter ministering to evacuees from Florida as well as the South Carolina coast) and Anderson (to serve electricians repairing downed power lines). Duke Energy brought in 1,000 additional repair crews to Anderson to restore power across the Upstate. SCBDR chainsaw teams are standing by to travel to the Upstate if needed.

On the coast, Charleston recorded a tidal surge of almost 10 feet, the highest since Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Beaufort and Hilton Head Island also saw near-record storm surges and heavy rainfall.

Still, South Carolina avoided the worst of Irma. In Florida, thousands of people were displaced, and millions were without power. The multi-billion dollar recovery and rebuilding effort will span months, if not years, according to news reports.

South Carolina Baptists have already begun the process of mobilizing to assist the people of Florida. Chainsaw teams, feeding units and mobile shower facilities are standing by, awaiting instructions from Florida Baptist disaster relief officials.

“We can leave [tomorrow] to go to Florida if we need to,” said Sue Harmon, operations manager for South Carolina Baptist Disaster Relief. “We don’t self-deploy to a state. We always work through that state’s disaster relief network to be assigned where they need us.”

Harmon said the immediate need in Florida will be for feeding teams and shower/laundry units to serve first responders and disaster relief workers.

The devastation wrought by Irma comes on the heels of Hurricane Harvey, which, over a period of days, dumped unprecedented amounts of rain on southeast Texas and portions of Louisiana. The scale of human suffering in the area is still coming to light even as floodwaters are slowly receding.

Harmon said state Baptist conventions west of the Mississippi River will concentrate disaster relief efforts in Texas, while disaster relief organizations east of the Mississippi will concentrate on Florida.

South Carolina Baptists who want to help should consider donating money or gift cards, and should not collect items to ship like clothing or bottled water, Harmon said. “Texas has said they just don’t have places to put it,” Harmon said. “Unless a church or association has a direct contact with someone [in the disaster area] and knows exactly what it is they need … it diverts attention away from helping survivors if people have to be receiving goods and sorting them and figuring out where to put them.”

People can donate money at the South Carolina Baptist Convention website. Also, checks can be mailed to SCBC Disaster Relief, 190 Stoneridge Dr., Columbia, S.C., 29210. Monetary gifts may be designated for either Harvey or Irma relief.

Harmon said another way for individuals or churches to help would be to purchase gift cards — general-use gift cards like MasterCard, Visa or Walmart — which the convention staff will send to Texas or Florida Baptist missions organizations for distribution to needy families. “If you donate a box of clothes, those people might not need clothes,” she said. “A gift card would allow them to choose how their need is met.”

“A huge aspect of our ministry, of course, is prayer,” Harmon said. She encouraged South Carolina Baptists to pray for the “people who are suffering,” for the disaster relief teams that are preparing to deploy, and the leaders that are making decisions about where to start working.

“We should also pray that the spiritual needs [of victims] will be met,” Harmon said. “It’s easy to cut a tree off a roof, but sometimes it’s harder for a person to recover emotionally and spiritually, and we want to focus on that, too.”