Texas-Sized Hurricane Frances Batters Florida

Christian relief groups gather volunteers as they prepare the full-on recovery launch; meteorologists advise relief groups and people to stay put through mid-afternoon Monday
( [email protected] ) Sep 06, 2004 01:44 PM EDT

A slow and persistent Tropical Storm Frances buzzed through Florida over the weekend, leaving much of the sunshine state in widespread chaos and damage. As the weakened storm moved eastward, Monday morning, meteorologists recommended all people continue to stay put – including Christian relief groups who are itching to give assistance.

“Our message is: turn around — don't drown. If you do not have to travel, don't do so today," state meteorologist Ben Nelson said on Monday.

Hurricane Frances battered the east coast of Florida and left some 13 inches of rain and flooding in some regions. The Texas sized hurricane left at least four dead and knocked out power for some 6 million residents.

According to Mickey Caison of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), approximately 110 units have been activated, but have been in standby from 25 states outside of Florida. In addition, some 1,750 volunteers have been waiting and eager to move in with the recovery works.

"We're in a challenged situation right now," Caison said Sunday morning to the SBC’s Baptist Press. "The storm has stalled and is not moving real fast. People are anxious to move and need to be patient."

Meanwhile, Fritz Wilson, director of disaster relief for the Florida Baptist Convention, said the slowness of Hurricane Frances has been causing operational disasters.

"We shut down our Hurricane Charley response early (Sept. 1) and we basically have been waiting for five days," said Wilson, who is temporarily coordinating operations in his state from NAMB's offices.

"Still, we probably won't begin to be able to place units anywhere in the strike zone of Frances until late (Monday) afternoon, just because we've got to wait until the storm clears," Wilson said.

While waiting on standby, Caison said new volunteers will be accepted for duty to man the recovery stations. The volunteers will be trained at the Lake Yale command center of the Florida Baptist Convention.

Currently, all Southern Baptist volunteers are awaiting the signal to move in in four staging sites: Government Street Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala.; First Baptist Church in Richmond Hill, Ga.; the Agri-center Fairgrounds in Perry, Ga.; and the South Carolina Baptist Convention office in Columbia, S.C.

According to BP, the SBC is also recruiting chaplains to give spiritual assistance to the storm victims. Also in need are translators and extra volunteers to work with the American Red Cross – the largest relief group in the nation.

To sign up with the Red Cross via the NAMB, please contact: (800) 462-8657, ext. 6133.

"The financial needs are great as the response is so massive," Caison said. "Not only Frances is involved but the aftermath of Charley is as well."

Beyond the physical needs, Caison said the primary need of the people of Florida is prayer, “especially those in the path of Hurricane Frances, the safety of relief workers, and for patience for volunteers as they wait for activation.”

Hurricane Francis made landfall at 1 a.m. Sunday, 40 miles north of West Palm Beach, and headed toward Tampa. According to AP reports, the storm inched eastward at 90-124 miles per hour, knocking out power and flooding all homes in its path.

Of the four known deaths, two were from earlier deaths in the Bahamas; one was a 28-year old man whose car struck a tree; the last was a woman in her 60s when a tree crashed into her home.