Hurricane Sandy left millions without power and thousands more homeless as it slammed the Northeast last week. Sandy made landfall in southern New Jersey Monday night as a deadly superstorm, bringing 90-mph winds and a roiling wall of seawater as it moved inland and causing widespread flooding in the New York metropolitan area. It was 900 miles wide as it approached, with hurricane-force winds extending 175 miles from the epicenter and tropical-force winds extending 520 miles, potentially making it one of the biggest storms to ever hit the East Coast.
The hurricane collided with a winter storm and a cold front, making it a devastating hybrid that brought devastating floods and damaging winds to some areas, and up to three feet of snow in others.
Utility companies are scrambling to restore power as colder temperatures bring further challenges to victims and humanitarian groups are working to provide aid to those impacted by the worst storm to hit the Northeast in 100 years.
Volunteers Told to 'Stand Down'
Many reports, however, about various groups being denied access into the affected areas have surfaced in recent days. Some attribute the accounts to union leaders protecting territories while others attribute the reports to bad rumors and breakdown in communication.
Earlier in the week, reports that a six-man crew with the Decatur Utilities bound for Seaside Heights, N.J., was turned away outraged stranded residents. The Alabama-based company claims communication with Seaside Heights was “poor due to lack of cell phone service in the area.”
Upon arriving to a staging area in Virginia, crews were held in place pending clarification of documents received from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) that implied a requirement of employees to agree to union affiliation while working in the New York and New Jersey areas.
“It was and remains our understanding that agreeing to those requirements was a condition a being allowed to work in those areas,” Decatur Utilities said in a statement. “To be clear, at no time were our crews ‘turned away’ from the utility in Seaside Heights.’”
Union officials said they made no such demands.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) leaders were prepared for what they anticipated to be a large response once the storm cleared, but also reports initially being asked to “stand down.” Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief teams were put on standby Oct. 31 for relief. After deploying to the region, the states feeding unit, feeding personnel, childcare personnel, communications personnel, and related support equipment returned to Alabama. Cleanup recovery teams, however, have proceeded into the disaster area.
“Let us be mindful that disasters are at best difficult to respond to,” said Mel Johnson, Alabama Disaster Relief strategist. “Communities as well as those serving often face challenges beyond our control. Remembering that our service to our Savior compels us during times of national tragedy, I ask that people please refrain from expressing frustration and or voicing opinions until we can learn more details regarding the stand down orders.”
More than 450 Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers with some 45 units from nine Baptist state conventions were activated in at least six states affected by the storm. Johnson noted, however, that multiple state conventions with feeding units deployed have been ordered to return home.
Response Transitions to Recovery
Not all volunteer teams were asked to return home. A team from Kentucky established a feeding kitchen at the Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, N.Y.
“We’ve faced some tremendous challenges, but we are still serving people despite it all,” said Karen Smith, a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Blue Hat volunteer. “This has been an awesome experience,” said Smith. “We’ve faced obstacles, but we are here serving people in need.”
Smith and her crew of 37 fellow Kentuckians have prepared meals for nearly a week. They supplied 15,000 meals on Sunday, Nov. 4, delivered by American Red Cross volunteers into the surrounding community. Known as “Kentucky Kitchen 01,” the crew is capable of producing 50,000 meals per day.
In other locations, just under 100,000 meals were prepared by SBDR volunteers at the New Jersey and New York sites Sunday, including Staten island, Deer Park and Rockaway in New York, and New Brunswick, Hammonton, Tom’s River, Waretown, and on the campus of Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Other volunteers report four people accepted Christ -- two armed services members at a military base, and a couple in coastal New Jersey. Members of a Tennessee SBDR team were distributing meals at the base when they were able to share the gospel with the servicemen.
Responding state Baptist conventions now include Alabama, Arkansas, Baptist General Convention of Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland-Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New England, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania-South Jersey, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, Southern Baptists of Texas, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. Also responding are volunteers from Canada, North Carolina Baptist Men and Texas Baptist Men.
International relief organization Samaritan's Purse is also helping victims of Hurricane Sandy at three locations in New Jersey. Bases have been established in Atlantic, Bergen and Ocean counties, areas that were hardest hit by the storm.
"These people are just devastated and need help," Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham said.
Staff and volunteer teams are helping families by tarping roofs, removing debris, mudding-out homes, treating for mold and removing downed trees.
“We’re looking forward to reaching out to the homeowners who’ve been so devastated by this disaster,” said Tony McNeil, Samaritan’s Purse program manager in Atlantic County. “We want to them to know that God loves them and He hasn’t forgotten them. We’re here to remind them of that.”
Chaplains from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team also are in New Jersey, helping to assess and finding people in need, and providing spiritual comfort.
The Churches of Christ sent three truckloads of supplies for distribution. Mainline denominations like the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have also launched massive relief efforts.
More than 113 people are reportedly dead in the United States due to Hurricane Sandy. At least 69 people have died in six other nations since Sandy’s wrath ripped its way northward.
Russ Jones is a 25-year award-winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites such as ChristianPress.com, OxfordFamily.com and a media consultant to a number of political and cause-oriented campaigns. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, a regular contributor for ReligionToday.com, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. He has been a guest on such programs as the Mike Gallagher Show, the Dennis Prager Show and Sandy Rios in the Morning. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at email@example.com or Facebook.com.russjones.
Publication date: November 6, 2012