BAINBRIDGE — “Houses are losing roofs. Big pines are coming down. It is like a war zone.”
Those are the only words Bowen Association Director of Missions/Associational Mission Strategist Ken Cloud could summon as he experienced Ground Zero of Hurricane Michael tonight.
As of 5:30 p.m. Cloud told The Index the Category 4 storm was as powerful as predicted. WSB-TV in Atlanta reported that the last time a storm of this magnitude hit Georgia was 1898. In a followup text to The Index, Cloud reported that a 12-year-old girl died when a large tree fell on her home.
Georgia Baptist churches like those in Bowen Association in the southern tier of the state have cancelled all Wednesday night activities and most likely will be shuttered tomorrow as Hurricane Michael came ashore earlier today.
Southwest Georgia is Ground Zero for Georgia Baptists and is where churches will feel the brunt of the most powerful storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades. Winds up to 150 mph are expected throughout tonight as the storm slugs through, downing trees and powerlines in its wake.
Cloud told the Index “everything is closed down here … schools, businesses, churches. We are in the direct path of the eye and even the snakes are in hiding, seeking higher ground.”
Cloud said residents are getting “a lot of rain and pretty heavy wind. Local officials are expecting folks between here and the Panhandle could be without power for weeks.”
The association covers the entire southwest corner of the state where the storm is expected to be strongest. The eye of the storm is 55 miles wide and carries the greatest amount of risk to residents.
Dion Brown in Colquitt Association echoed Cloud’s comments, saying all churches are closed for tonight and most likely tomorrow, depending on how much power is available. Mount Olive Baptist Church in Moultrie has opened its doors as a shelter but has limited capacity … perhaps only 25 or 30 beds.
The association is seeing few, if any, storm evacuees from the area since anyone fleeing the storm would flee much farther away … and not choose to remain in its path. Any shelters that have opened are primarily for local manufactured housing/mobile home residents who need more secure lodging.
“If you are evacuating from the Panhandle, it really would not make sense to head to Moultrie and end up somewhere with no power,” he added.
“Latest weather reports indicate the storm may track to the west of Albany and we may not get as bad rain and wind as earlier predicted. But of course that can change with the next update.”
Hans Wunch in Mallory Baptist Association said Albany-area churches have likewise cancelled all evening activity and tomorrow will depend on whether power is available.
Buddy Wasson at Savannah Baptist Association, further to the east, says a few churches are closing tonight but most are expected to close for tomorrow.
The association will be closed tomorrow due to schools in Chatham, Effingham, and Bryan not being open. Wasson noted that by the time the storm hits the Savannah area around 5 a.m. Thursday, winds are expected to have diminished to about 30 mph with gusts up to 50 mph. Only about an inch or two or rain is expected as Michael hugs the coastline and drifts slightly out to sea.
All association ministry sites – primarily the Savannah Baptist Center with its feeding and pantry outreach – will be closed on Thursday.
Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Coordinate and State Missionary Stuart Lang said late Wednesday that it is too early for decisions to be made about any possible response.
“There is nothing we can do at this point but let the storm pass through and then evaluate the response. We need at least 24 hours to get feedback to see what the extent of damage is and how we can respond.
Georgia Disaster Relief awaiting storm to pass before evaluating response
“We are in the ‘wait and pray’ mode at this time.”
Disaster Relief volunteers are never first responders and only offer ministry after other agencies evaluate and conduct search and rescue operations.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 92 counties but fell short of issuing mandatory evacuation orders such as those issued by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Deal told media that he expected Georgia residents to make informed decisions about their safety and seek higher ground if necessary, but it was difficult to determine the storm’s path and intensity once it makes landfall.
“The state is mobilizing all available resources to ensure public safety ahead of Hurricane Michael,” Deal stated. “In light of the storm’s forecasted track, I encourage Georgians in the affected counties to be prepared and remain vigilant.”
Baptist Press reported that, unlike Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, Michael is not expected to carry the same flooding risk beyond the initial storm surge, with the hurricane predicted to move fairly quickly through Florida and into Georgia.