N.C. Baptist disaster relief volunteers are among those helping Florida residents begin putting their lives back together after Hurricane Ian slammed the state one week ago, leaving a path of death and destruction in its wake.
“There are folks down here who have lost everything,” said Terry Hall, who is serving as the site coordinator for N.C. Baptists on Mission’s relief efforts in Cape Coral, Fla. Hall is a member of First Baptist Church of New Bern, N.C.
Cape Coral is located along the southwest Florida coast in Lee County, which bore the brunt of Ian’s fury. The Category 4 storm made landfall near Cayo Costa, Fla., – one of Lee County’s barrier islands – on Sept. 28, bringing with it 150-mph winds, heavy rainfall and catastrophic storm surges.
Hurricane Ian was one of the most powerful storms ever to hit Florida. With 150-mph sustained winds, Ian tied the record for the fifth-strongest storm on record to strike the United States.
As of Oct. 5, at least 120 people have died in Florida due the storm, and the death toll is expected to rise. About half of the deaths in Florida have occurred in Lee County.
Additionally, five deaths in North Carolina have been attributed to Ian. After crossing over Florida into the Atlantic Ocean, Ian made a second landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm on Sept. 30, and passed through North Carolina before dissipating over southern Virginia on Oct. 1.
Four of the five deaths in North Carolina involved vehicle crashes. The other death involved a case of carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from a generator running in a closed garage during a power outage.
“Although we mourn five deaths and incurred some damage, it’s clear North Carolina missed the worst of this storm,” N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.
The worst of the storm’s damage came in Florida, where Hurricane Ian destroyed homes, flooded streets and toppled trees. Many residents in Cape Coral where N.C. Baptists are serving were still without power as of Oct. 6. Many Cape Coral residents were also without running water for several days due to infrastructure damage. Water service was restored to the city on Oct. 6, according to an announcement by city officials.
N.C. Baptist disaster relief volunteers deployed to the region on Oct. 1, with recovery operations, a large-scale feeding unit, water purification, laundry and shower units, chaplaincy and other support ministries. By Oct. 3, volunteers began providing hot meals to storm victims out of Manna One, a feeding unit that is capable of providing up to 30,000 meals per day.
As of Oct. 5, volunteers had provided 44,500 meals, and they planned to provide 24,000 additional meals on Oct. 6. Officials said they expect mass feeding operations to continue for at least four to five more weeks.
Volunteers who have helped distribute the food have been overcome with emotion, along with the storm survivors they are serving.
“They just cry and cry and cry,” Hall said. “And that’s our volunteers, not to mention the survivors. People are so thankful that someone is here caring for them.”
Recovery teams spent Oct. 4 assessing damage to homes and got to work on Oct. 5 making repairs and engaging in recovery efforts. As of Thursday morning, volunteers had received about 60 assessment requests, a number that Hall said will “grow exponentially.”
Recovery volunteers spent much of Wednesday repairing damaged roofs, removing storm-damaged debris from homes, cutting down fallen trees and more.
“Most neighborhoods and businesses have damage that ranges from a little to a lot,” said Tom Beam, who coordinates N.C. Baptists on Mission’s disaster relief ministry. “There are some communities where everything is destroyed.”
Some of those areas with extensive damage are communities along Cape Coral’s extensive and intricate canal system. Cape Coral boasts more than 400 miles of canals which includes an abundance of waterfront property.
The damage to the area is so extensive that N.C. Baptists on Mission plans to serve in the region for the foreseeable future. Officials have a major need for more recovery volunteers to sign up to serve.
N.C. Baptists on Mission has developed a special web page related to the Hurricane Ian response at baptistsonmission.org/hurricane-ian. At the site, individuals can receive response updates, learn more about volunteer opportunities and make a financial donation to the relief efforts.
Disaster relief is also one of the ministries supported through the North Carolina Missions Offering.
As of Thursday morning, Oct. 6, about 100 N.C. Baptist volunteers were serving in Cape Coral. By serving, volunteers have an opportunity to meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
“People are listening to the gospel for the first time from our volunteers,” Beam said. “When people see us, they also ask us questions, and we’re able to talk to them about why we’re here. They’re very appreciative and thankful that we’re here.”