Responding to Isabel

Communities unite under disaster
( [email protected] ) Sep 20, 2003 04:14 PM EDT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In light of the substantial damages left on the East Coast states by Hurricane Isabel, communities and volunteers are coming together in the spirit of unity.

Although Isabel was classified as a Category 2 hurricane, relatively small to the category 4 Hurricane Floyd which hit the same region 4 years ago, it left considerable damages. Isabel’s path of destruction left more than 4.5 million people without power, 29 people dead and over $1 billion in damages. The storm related deaths happened in seven East Coast states -- in Virginia, at least 16 people died; 5 in Maryland, three in North Carolina, two in New Jersey and one each in Rhode Island, New York and Pennsylvania.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, whose city got the "kind of surge that the experts only said would come from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, direct hit," praised his community for the immediate response to the damages. "We're all pumping out, cleaning up, digging out," said O'Malley.

Joe Weatherbee of the Portsmouth Baptist Association near Norfolk and Virginia Beach reported that Sept. 19 was a "bright, sunshiny day," after Isabel moved through. He said more than a million people were without power in the area, but the flooding had subsided and the winds had calmed down. People were cutting down trees and starting to clean up.

"The main thing is getting power back," he said.

Authorities in Northern Virginia urged the residents to boil their water.

"Virginians need to realize that they're in for a tough couple of days," Gov. Mark R. Warner said.

Of the 45 churches within the Neuse association, Leary said he had not heard any reports of damage, though he planned to venture out during the day for closer inspections.

"In the past, we've had steeples gone and things like that," he said.

Church members in the area joined forces with Disaster Relief units to assist those affected by Isabel.

"We're sort of the first wave of Christ's arms reaching out to people," said Skip Greene, a member of First Baptist Church of Boone, N.C., and leader of the unit. "We're there to help them primarily by giving them a hot meal, to help them through this initial shock of what's happening in their lives. And behind us come people that actually help put a roof on their house, or get the mud out."

Also staging at the convention offices overnight was the state's Region 9 mobile kitchen unit from the Asheville area, along with two cleanup and recovery teams. The units left early Sept. 19 to another staging area at Williamston, N.C., where they would find out their final destination.

Greene said the kitchen units usually go in and immediately start setting up to prepare thousands of meals daily for disaster victims.

"I anticipate tomorrow we'll probably go out and set up a serving line and serve people right in front of us," he said, noting that most of the food often is prepared in bulk for distribution by the American Red Cross or Salvation Army.

"Initially a lot of the time people come to us when they find out what we're doing," he said.

For Charlie Fox -- who was just appointed head dishwasher for the deployment -- involvement in Disaster Relief was an extension of his love for other kinds of volunteer missions, a passion he shares with others in the unit. It is a commitment that led him to change careers in the late '80s to become an insurance agent -- just so he would have the flexibility to participate in missions projects.

"I hate to say that you have a good time when you go out for a disaster, but the fellowship is really good," he said. "It's very fulfilling. You feel like you're doing something worthwhile."