Survivors’ Stories After Hurricane Ian and Send Relief’s Ongoing Response

By Natalie Sarrett

Since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on September 28, survivors’ harrowing stories of battling the Category 4 storm have slowly come to light.

Ron Cook, a Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer, shared an account his team heard about an 80-year-old neighbor who survived flash flooding and 155-mph winds by taking shelter in his van, breathing through a small air pocket near the roof as storm waters surged through his vehicle and carried him away.

On October 4, Cook’s team assisted homeowners Stan and Amy Wiggins, who had evacuated to Amy’s sister’s home when the storm started rolling in. Florida Baptist volunteers spent an entire day removing flood-damaged furniture, baseboards and other fixtures after 4 feet of water flooded the first floor of their home.

“The day of the storm, I got a text from a neighbor who had escaped to their attic. They were in a one-story house,” Amy said. “I got another text from another girl in our neighborhood who said they were on their counters watching their stuff floating by. We knew when we got home; it would be bad.”

The Wigginses reached out to their McGregor Baptist Church family requesting help, and Florida volunteers with Cook’s team stepped up to respond, as they’d done for many others in the community that week.

“It’s overwhelming as far as the sense of gratitude and just not knowing where to begin as far as expressing how thankful we are and how unexpected it is,” said Stan of the help he and Amy received from Southern Baptists. “It was daunting to see what was before us and not even knowing where to begin and then to have so many people come in and just lend hands and want to help out.”

Cook’s team began recovery efforts, like their work with the Wiggins family, the day after the storm. “We’re doing a mud-out of their home. What that entails is removing all of their possessions affected by the floodwaters,” Cook said. “After that, we will remove all the affected drywall and the insulation, taking everything down to the studs. Then, we will be spraying for mold so we can get this home as livable as possible for them while they wait for the rebuilding.”

Cook said an “incredible number” of work orders requesting help have been coming in, and hundreds of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams from seventeen state conventions are pouring into Southwest Florida to minister to the overwhelming need. So far, Southern Baptist volunteers have provided flood recovery, roofing repairs, debris removal and more to over 500 homes impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Another way SBDR volunteers are meeting needs is through emergency feeding. Southern Baptists have established nine feeding sites, collectively preparing over 385,000 meals, in cities like Port Charlotte, Ft. Myers and Naples to feed families who lost power during and after the storm. Thousands are still without power in the most impacted areas, and these volunteers will continue meeting this vital need until power is fully restored.

Send Relief is supporting the SBDR response by sending emergency relief supplies and meals for survivors to disaster relief teams on the ground. Just days after the storm, Send Relief sent an initial shipment of recovery supplies, including protective suits, gloves, masks and other construction materials. This truck was also loaded with bottled water, tarping for rooftops and Shockwave treatment to disinfect and kill dangerous bacteria in flooded homes.

“We’re here to help support the state disaster relief teams, fill in any gaps that they may have in the response. We have multiple ways at the national level to help solve those problems,” said Coy Webb, crisis response director for Send Relief. “We also seek to mobilize the resources they need quickly so that volunteers can get started as soon as they arrive.”

In anticipation of a long road to recovery in Florida, Send Relief sent a second semi-truck full of emergency relief supplies to restock inventory for SBDR teams and provide materials for the next phase of rebuilding. These emergency packages include roofing materials, Tyvek suits, N-95 masks, safety glasses and work gloves. Send Relief will continue sending shipments of supplies to help replenish SBDR inventory for volunteers on the ground, with the next shipment heading out to Florida on October 11.

“We talk about the Cooperative Program and usually we talk about it as a funding mechanism,” said Florida Baptist disaster relief director David Coggins. “Cooperative Program in this regard is not so much about the funding mechanism as it is really about the cooperative nature of what we do as Southern Baptists. This is it in practicality and reality. It’s one thing to send your money to something, it’s another thing to see the result of that in a very practical, experiential way.”

Thank you for your continued prayers for the Southern Baptist response in the wake of Hurricane Ian. Everything SBDR and Send Relief does to meet needs in the throes of a crisis centers on not only meeting physical needs but extending the invitation to receive eternal, spiritual hope.

“We want to make sure that, first and foremost, that people know why we’re here, who we’re here to represent and why we’re doing what we do to bring them hope in the name of the Lord Jesus,” said Coggins. “That’s always forefront in all of our minds. Pray that our volunteers and our witness across all of our locations would be strong and powerful and visible. Pray for the homeowners and the survivors. These folks have been devastated.”

If you would like to stay up to date on Send Relief’s recovery efforts or donate to help families impacted by Hurricane Ian, visit our website to learn more and make a difference in the lives of survivors in need.

Help families impacted by Hurricane Ian!

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Published October 10, 2022

Natalie Sarrett

Natalie Sarrett is a staff writer for Send Relief.