Hurricane Ike is pushing its way into Texas today and tomorrow, and already hundreds of thousands of people have evacuated to further inland locations. The National Weather Service issued a warning to people living in small houses on Galveston Island that they faced "certain death" from flooding if they remained in their homes. A mandatory evacuation has been issued for Galveston, and hurricane warnings were issued for a 400-mile stretch of coastline that stretched from south of Corpus Christi to Morgan City, La., reports the New York Times.

Disaster relief groups already on the ground serving evacuees affected by Hurricane Gustav are turning toward Texas this week, readying a relief response as Hurricane Ike makes landfall. Non-profit and faith-based relief operations such as Operation Blessing, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the Salvation Army and World Vision have put relief teams are on the ground to begin distributing food, water and other needed items to victims.

Relief workers, overwhelmed but prepared

These groups have been stepping up their activities and providing non-stop relief work in what has been a well-above-average hurricane season. As the Institute for Southern Studies underscored in our recent report, Faith in the Gulf, these faith-based and non-profit relief organizations have become a vital part of relief and recovery work in hurricane-prone areas.

Some of their recent work includes:

  • Since Gustav made landfall in Louisiana, thousands of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers operated feeding kitchens at 23 locations in five states. Southern Baptist volunteers have prepared nearly 770,000 meals; completed 275 chainsaw jobs; provided 7,903 showers and 1,138 loads of laundry, reports the Baptist Press.
  • In preparation for Hurricane Ike, Texas Baptist Men have activated four teams to serve around the state and will prepare about 46,000 meals a day, reports the Baptist Press.
  • The Pentecostal relief outfit, Convoy of Hope, is responding to victims in Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica, after providing in recent days more than $1 million of aid to the Gulf Coast of the United States following Hurricane Gustav. In the United States, Convoy of Hope has distributed 26 semi-truckloads of relief supplies to more than 200,000 people in Louisiana and the U.S. Disaster Response Team is preparing to redirect its efforts to Texas, according to Reliefweb.
  • Following Hurricane Gustav, the Salvation Army served more than 100,000 meals throughout the gulf coast area. This includes food service for evacuees, volunteers and other first responders who are helping in the evacuation. The ministry has more than 100 mobile feeding units, two 54-foot mobile kitchens and multiple fixed feeding sites at its Corps and other outposts throughout the region, reports the Salvation Army in a press release.
  • Nationally, churches across Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and as far north as Oklahoma have opened up their doors to evacuees following the most recent storms.

"We're in full preparation mode here," Audrey Black, manager of World Vision' Storehouse in Picayune, Miss., said in a World Vision press release prior to Hurricane Gustav's landfall. "We have been seeing long lines at gas stations and stores as people stock up on necessities-but not everyone can afford to stock up. World Vision's priority is to make sure we're ready to help the region's low-income and forgotten populations."

In Houma in the days following Gustav, North Carolina Baptist disaster relief units rolled in with six 18-wheelers filled with meal supplies, to cook 30,000 meals a day for delivery to residents by the Salvation Army's fleet of disaster response trucks, reports the Baptist Press. "People ask, 'Why do you need these guys?'" Kilm Liretta, a Houma reporter, told the Baptist Press regarding the North Carolina Baptists' feeding operation. "You know what I tell them? Without these guys, we'd be lost."

In response to Hurricane Ike, nonprofit and faith-based volunteers, staff and vehicles are awaiting deployment with other equipment and supplies to storm-struck areas. The American Red Cross has requested that Southern Baptists Disaster Relief, the third largest disaster relief organization in the United States, be prepared to provide up to a total of 500,000 meals per day, while the Salvation Army has requested another 70,000 meals, reports the Baptist Press. Relief workers have been working with the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and federal and state officials to plan a response in Ike's expected strike zone.

The steady stream of storms has caused many groups to recruit more volunteers. "One of the problems we've been facing is fatigue," Mickey Caison, director of operations at the Southern Baptist Disaster Operations Center, told the Baptist Messenger. "We've been going at it hard all year with tornadoes and floods and ice storms. So we've been in a response somewhere all year long. And a lot of those volunteers have used their vacation days already. As we are working toward additional responses, we are looking at whether we are going to be able to mobilize enough people."

Saving the Coastline

Sharon S. Gauthe, director of southern Louisiana's Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO), a congregation-based community organization part of the PICO national network, has been working in the Hurricane Gustav hard-hit areas in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes to bring attention to the relief and recovery needs of the area. "Please spread the word that we do need to be helped in our communities," she said.

Local faith-based groups such as BISCO continue to engage in advocacy work to ensure that communities impacted by these storms gain better protection. For instance, BISCO is interested in seeing policy that improves the safety of communities in southern Louisiana. "Man has destroyed that protection and now we're forced to get out to survive," Patty Whitney, a BISCO community organizer, said in an Oxfam press release following Gustav. "Before, people could prepare. They could board up, stock up on supplies. They knew how to protect themselves from the furor of nature because nature itself provided protection."

BISCO believes that protecting healthy marshes along the coastline and helping to restore the marshland would provide a level of security and safety so many of these costal communities desire. "The technology is there, but the political will is not," Whitney said in the press statement, underscoring that BISCO is determined to change the political landscape. "Our goal is to work with communities and networks across the country to help build the will to save the coastline."