PELHAM — South Georgia Baptists are reeling today after the strongest hurricane since 1898 tore through the Florida Panhandle and through the heart of the state overnight Wednesday.
Numerous churches are out of commission with varying degrees of wind damage as gusts up to 120 mph ripped through the southern tier of associations. Tucker Association, by second hand reliable reports, is the first to report heavy damage.
Bowen Baptist Association Director of Missions/Associational Mission Strategist Ken Cloud reports that his grandson’s church, Hopeful Baptist in Hopeful, is “heavily damaged” but further information is pending. Both Lee Bradley, Director of Missions/Associational Mission Strategists for Tucker Association, and Pastor Clay Cloud have been unable to return phone calls.
Bowen and adjacent Tucker Association took the full force of the eye as the Category 4 storm entered the state. Hurricane Michael remained a full hurricane for 6 hours as it slogged through Georgia, far longer than most storms.
Union Grove Church near Pelham, also in Tucker Association, lost its fellowship hall and education space in the building directly behind the church. Pastor Doug Hall, through Ken Cloud, reported that the church’s roof was lifted up about three times and resulted in an unknown amount of structural damage.
Back in his own association, Cloud reported three churches with less damage but he is still waiting for others to report in. The front porch of Climax Church in Climax was destroyed; Faceville Church in Faceville had massive limbs through the fellowship hall; and Spring Creek Church in Brinson lost its steeple.
Cloud stated that much of the damage was sustained slightly before dark as the hurricane’s eye passed overhead but the full extent was not visible until morning. Winds this morning were still averaging 40 mph.
Cloud reports that trees and powerlines are blocking streets making passage impossible. Downtown Bainbridge is closed and cut off and 97 percent of Georgia Power customers are without electricity.
He observed that his house is 150 feet from a stop sign intersection but the tree and debris “prevents from going in any direction, even if you can get to the stop sign … which I cannot.”
“When the Bible says that God has his way in the whirlwind, you don’t fuss about the mess, you just clean it up and go on. We are just thankful to be alive and praising the Lord this morning,” he added.
Power companies are anticipating at least two weeks before power is fully restored. Before crews can enter, roads must be cleared and that could take an extended amount of time.
Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief Coordinator and State Missionary Stuart Lang confirmed at noon that initial reports are that the storm was more of a wind event rather than flooding so any response would focus on clean up and recovery rather than feeding or mudout.
“We have been told by local authorities that there are 127 roads that are totally impassible and at least 120 that are littered with a substantial amount of debris. All of that impedes our ability to gain access once we get requests,” he noted.
Lang said that he has received requests from churches and associations but action will be determined by accessibility. Overnight, Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director J. Robert White sent out a request for churches to receive a special offering for Disaster Relief.
“Hurricane Michael has been devastating to so many. Our outstanding Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief teams will be hard at work for a long time.
“Since your Cooperative Program dollars pay all other costs involved, the Disaster Relief funds given by your congregation go directly to meeting needs. Please label your gifts for Disaster Relief,” he said in the appeal.
White also reminded churches to follow Disaster Relief updates here.
He added, “Stuart Lang, our Disaster Relief State Director, is monitoring the impact to Georgia and hopes to send an update sometime Friday.”