Evacuations ordered as Hurricane Matthew heads towards Florida; volunteers standing by

by Joni B. Hannigan |

(Florida Baptist Convention)Florida Baptist disaster relief workers onsite in Louisiana.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Christian Examiner) — From the southernmost tip of the Florida peninsula to New England, residents are making preparations for Hurricane Matthew, a Category 3 storm which is the most powerful in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a State of Emergency for all of Florida's 67 counties ahead of the impact of what could be a Category 4 storm if it makes landfall in the next 24 hours; while South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said 1.1 million of the state's 4.8 million people needed to evacuate from the state's coast.

"Our goal is to make sure you get 100 miles away from the coast," Haley said.

In Miami, lines at the grocery store were reported long Wednesday morning near Miami Beach, while gas stations were already out of gas, according to residents.

In Jacksonville to the north, hardware stores were reporting they were out of generators with emergency shipments on the way. Gas lines there were long as well, with major grocery store chains busy. Major Lenny Curry has ordered an evacuation for Jacksonville Beach, Atlantic and Neptune ahead of the storm, and some low lying and riverfront areas of Jacksonville.

"We need to evacuated the beaches," said Curry, who is closing the city for non-essential personnel Thursday and Friday. Residents are told to prepare for power outages.

(National Weather Service)

Some families were making emergency plans – with some looking to leave the area altogether, heading west or north to escape the storm – while most were planning to hunker down. Facebook was alive with "hurricane party" plans in zones were no evacuations would be anticipated.

School closures began mid-morning Wednesday, with First Baptist Jacksonville Academy already reporting Thursday and Friday classes dismissed at their infant through middle school campus.

Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers, according to a news story posted on the Florida Baptist Convention website, were already making preparations for the storm.

The huge mass of about 5,000 volunteers, well recognized for their ongoing response in Florida and throughout the nation and the world during mass disasters, are trained in mass feeding, emergency response, damage assessment, clean-up and recovery, childcare, chaplain support, and other areas.

Two Florida Baptist mass feeding units are being staged at Lake Yale Baptist Conference Center near Leesburg for rapid response, according to the news report.

"The Disaster Operation Center at Lake Yale will stage equipment out of the warehouse," said the report. "Trained mass feeding volunteers are expected to be called out on Thursday. FBDR officials have asked Southern Baptist state partners west of Pensacola to be on standby, including Texas, Mississippi and Alabama."

Delton Beall, Florida's disaster relief director, said the state's Emergency Operations Center estimates there will be more than 300,000 meals needed daily if the state takes a direct hit.

Florida Baptists, in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew, had pre-staged food, water and other resources, according to the report.

(REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)A woman walks on a highway blocked by rocks after the passage of hurricane Matthew on the coast of Guantanamo province, Cuba.

With an extra eye on Haiti and Cuba where Florida Baptists have had long-term ministry, they have reported they have been in contact with mission partners in Eastern Cuba and in Western Haiti since the storm went through there Wednesday. Western Haiti was damaged by floods, the report indicated.

Craig Culbreth, catalyst for the Florida Baptist Convention's Missions and Ministries Team, said the Mission House of the Confratenite Missionaire de Haiti in Port au Prince did not, however, sustain damage. He plans to travel there Saturday.

A team of Florida Baptist is set to travel to Santiago, Cuba, next week to repair church roofs and other damage.

The Florida Baptist Convention's Facebook page will post updates. 

To donate to the Florida Baptist DR relief effort send a check to the Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32207. Designate "Florida disaster relief." To make a donation by credit card, call 800-226-8584, att. Mike Gilley, ext. 3047 or Flor Ramirez, ext. 3100.