As most residents prepared their costumes for Halloween Wednesday, area volunteers gathered and prepared their disaster relief gear to travel hundreds of miles north to help Hurricane Sandy victims.
Hurricane Sandy, which was dubbed "Frankenstorm" because of its wide berth, (in diameter, it was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record) made landfall in New Jersey Monday night, where national media outlets are reporting the state suffered the most damage.
The storm ripped a path through the mid-Atlantic and northward, leaving behind more than 20 states with flooded cities and massive amounts of rain and snow in some parts of the country. It has caused at least $20 billion worth of damage, according to a Wall Street Journal prediction.
Southern Baptist Convention volunteers
Twenty area volunteers with Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief left from Calvary Baptist Church in Covington at the pre-dawn hours of the morning Wednesday to help feed New Jersey victims affected by the storm.
"We've been asked to provide up to 15,000 meals a day (for victims)," said Dr. Larry Cheek, associational missionary with the Stone Mountain Baptist Association. "Volunteers will stay in a kitchen and prepare meals, and the Red Cross truck will then come in and take the food out to affected areas."
Newton County native and Disaster Relief Team leader Jimmy Harris said his group received a call Monday to help and have been making preparations and enlisting team members for the first response team since Tuesday.
"The volunteers we have here today (Wednesday) come from everywhere. We've got one lady coming from the Alabama line," Harris said. "But they are all prepared; they have gone through training to learn how to handle the food and do things that the Red Cross wants them to do."
Donna Hill and her husband traveled from Meriwether County to Covington to help in the effort. The couple has served in disaster relief efforts for several years and worked the 2009 floods in Austell. Hill said her faith contributed to her eagerness to want to help storm victims.
"When you are sitting at home and watching all that is going on, you want to make sure that people know that God is faithful and he is there to give them their basic needs," she said.
Others, like locals Tommy Campbell and Della Lilly, have volunteered to help disaster victims for more than decade.
"I think I've been doing this for 17 years and I have enjoyed every minute of it," said Campbell, a volunteer from Porterdale Baptist. "I think the Lord is calling me to do this; each one (disaster) I've been to is a blessing."
Lilly, a Solid Rock Baptist Church member who has served in disasters such as Katrina and 9/11, said when she received the call it wasn't a question of if it was when.
"I get such an adrenaline rush, because it's another opportunity to serve people and them about Jesus," she said. "I love it, it's hard work but it's amazing to watch all these people work together to give us the strength and energy that can only come from Christ."
Southern Baptist is the third largest disaster relief organization in the country, right behind the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross, said Cheek. The organization coordinates with the American Red Cross and trains and certifies each volunteer.
Cheek said their unit has a warehouse in Covington that is filled with non-perishable goods ready to make 15,000 meals available within a 24-hour notice. Along with regular maintenance checks on vehicles and recertification of volunteers, the Southern Baptist Convention's disaster relief team is always ready.
The 20 volunteers who left Wednesday will stay and feed victims for four days before coming back to Covington. Then another bus will bring another group for the same amount of time and so on, he said.
Area crews aid storm-ravaged states
William Lane, a Newton County resident who has family in New York and New Jersey, said the biggest concern in storm stricken areas is the lack of power.
"As it got closer, my mom and brother were worried but mostly for power, (my mom often wears oxygen) and that's what most people seemed to know would be a result," he said in an email. "Somehow, some packets kept power and she was one of them, but it's not over."
Lane's mother works at Hackensack Medical Center, which lost power for two days. He said it was restored yesterday, but went out again today. Also, Lane said these cities are experiencing a gas shortage because everyone is using their cars and generators for power and travel and are now running out.
To help with the power crisis, crews from Snapping Shoals EMC and other EMCs from across the state have been sent to Maryland to help restore power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
SEMC's Bruce Watts, Clint Ellis, Anthony Spurling, Ryan Mathis, Jonathan Plunkett, Michael Cronan, Richie Clark and Jason Powell, as well as crews from Altamaha EMC in Lyons, Carroll EMC in Carrollton, Central Georgia EMC in Jackson, Flint Energies in Reynolds, Irwin EMC in Ocilla, Jackson EMC in Jefferson, Middle Georgia EMC in Vienna, Mitchell EMC in Camilla, Southern Rivers in Barnesville and Tri-County EMC in Gray, Jim Wright, vice president of training, education and safety for Georgia EMC, said Georgia's co-ops have been in constant contact with co-ops in the path of Hurricane Sandy.
"It took just one phone call from Maryland to get our crews and equipment moving in their direction," Wright said. "We've also had preliminary discussions with several other states and additional crews will move out immediately if we receive their call for help."
While Wright can't say specifically in what order power will be restored, many utilities follow a standard industry practice to repair and energize its lines. First, feeder and primary lines are repaired, then secondary and service lines next. This method restores power to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time.
Georgia EMC and other utilities have arranged through the Georgia Department of Public Safety to provide for the expedited movement of utility trucks and equipment through Georgia heading to the mid-Atlantic.
In recent years, EMC crews have worked alongside co-ops in South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Virginia and Florida.
Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corporation provides electric service to about 95,000 residential, commercial and industrial consumers in parts of Rockdale, Henry, Newton, DeKalb, Butts, Walton, Jasper and Morgan counties.
How you can help
The Metro Atlanta Red Cross along with other Red Cross divisions are responding to help from multiple states across the East Coast that suffered damage from Hurricane Sandy.
Nearly 11,000 people spent Monday night in more than 250 Red Cross shelters across 16 states including New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Indiana and Michigan.
As of right now, the Red Cross is in need of financial donations to help fund their relief efforts in the northeast, said Ruben Brown with the Metro Atlanta Red Cross.
"This relief effort may last a lot longer than most and, obviously, it could be a lot more expensive," Brown said.
These donations will help the Red Cross provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by disasters like Hurricane Sandy, as well as countless crises at home and around the world.
To donate to Red Cross, visit redcross.org, call (800) RED-CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to any local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.
Another way to donate and help is through the Southern Baptist Convention. Churches and individuals have several options on how they may give. Checks can be made payable to SMBA "for Disaster Relief" and mailed to P.O. Box 911 Conyers, GA 30012 or make an online donation at stonemountainbaptistassociation.org.