Baptist relief on alert as Hurricane Dorian skips Puerto Rico, aims at Florida

By Brandon Elrod

GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico—Hurricane Dorian missed the island of Puerto Rico. While the storm appeared to be within striking distance, Dorian took a hard turn northward, providing relief to residents who endured the devastating 2017 Hurricane Maria.

“I was relieved, and I was relieved not for myself or for Send Relief,” said Jonathan Santiago, Puerto Rico director for Send Relief. “I was relieved for hundreds of thousands of families who were not ready for any type of storm. It gives us more time to prepare better and resource better and be prepared for anything that may come along in the future. The storm season is not over.”

Ahead of the storm, Send Relief, the compassion ministry arm of the North American Mission Board, began implementing its crisis response strategy across the island.

Through the Southern Baptist network of churches, pastors and leaders were geared up to utilize emergency packages containing a chainsaw, cooking tools and a generator to minister to the needs in their communities. The storm threat allowed Send Relief to test their protocols, but pastors and leaders on the island were grateful to avoid the need to implement them.

The near miss gives relief volunteers more time to help families whose houses still need attention after Maria’s blow to the island.

“We encourage churches and volunteers to continue to visit Puerto Rico and come and assist us because there are still so many needs,” said Santiago. “Those who could fix their roofs have already repaired them by now. Forty percent of the island live under the poverty line. People from the mainland can come and help with the roof and help them meet needs brought on by poverty.”

Dorian sets sights on Florida

With Hurricane Dorian slowly making its way northward, the National Hurricane Center projects the storm will gain strength, potentially becoming a Category 4 hurricane before making landfall in Florida early Monday morning (Sept. 1).

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Wednesday evening (Aug. 28) and encouraged residents on the state’s eastern coast to begin preparations.

“It’s important for Floridians on the East Coast to monitor this storm closely,” Governor DeSantis said in a statement. “I will continue to monitor Hurricane Dorian closely with emergency management officials. The state stands ready to support all counties along the coast as they prepare.”

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) has entered the initial stages of planning and readying their response for the anticipated landfall in Florida. The Florida Baptist Convention will set up a command center at their Jacksonville headquarters, and SBDR will have a presence in the Florida government’s disaster response center.

SBDR leaders will test equipment, evaluate their need for resources and contact volunteers so they can ready themselves to serve. If the storm becomes as large as projections state, volunteers from all over North America will travel and respond.

“Florida Baptists are seasoned veterans at hurricane response,” said Sam Porter, national director of SBDR for Send Relief. “They will be ready, and Southern Baptists from all over our nation will be involved in the response.”

Send Relief is preparing to support SBDR if needed in the coming days. Supplies, such as temporary rolled roofing, cleanup kits and mold remediation, are stored at the Send Relief Ministry Center in Ashland, Ky., and will be available. The team in Kentucky will prepare to load those supplies on a truck and, depending on the track of the storm, stage them closer to the affected area for delivery as soon the weather clears.

“We have been in preparation mode all week long, and now SBDR and Send Relief are preparing our emphasis for wherever Dorian strikes. We will continue monitoring the storm throughout the weekend,” Porter said.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is among the three largest providers of disaster relief assistance in the United States. Southern Baptist churches, associations and state conventions all partner to mobilize volunteers, resources and equipment to provide services. The North American Mission Board provides national coordination and assistance in larger multi-state responses.

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published August 29, 2019