Coronavirus Hampers Michigan Baptist Response to Historic Flooding

The home of Michigan disaster relief volunteer Steve Saxton sustained about nine feet of water when two dams failed in Michigan, causing catastrophic flooding. Photo from Facebook

MIDLAND, Mich. (BP) — Historic flooding in middle Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges for Baptist State Convention of Michigan (BSCM) disaster relief.

As the BSCM mobilizes flood response teams, feeding units, damage assessors and chaplains, BSCM state disaster relief director Bob Kiger says some volunteers might find the work too risky. Most volunteers are retirees in the age group most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“That’s liable to affect the amount of people we have, because we don’t have a lot of young volunteers,” Kiger told Baptist Press.

He’s mobilizing aid to an estimated 10,000 people displaced from their homes when the Edenville and Sanford dams were breached after heavy rainfall. Flooding from the Tittabawassee River covered rooftops in Edenville, Midland and Sanford, small towns about 150 miles northwest of Detroit. Residents hadn’t suffered such flooding since heavy rains in 1986, which had been described as a 100-year or 500-year event.

The BSCM is also challenged because many flood evacuees are refusing to enter shelters where disaster relief volunteers can most easily respond to their needs and concerns. Instead, some are sleeping near shelters in their cars.

“There are some shelters that are open, but people are hesitant to go into the shelters because of COVID-19, which is extremely bad up here,” Kiger said. “A lot of people stayed in their cars outside the shelter. … We don’t want somebody sitting outside of the shelter and starve to death because they’re afraid to go inside.

“What the church is going to be able to do is make sure these people have food,” Kiger said, “and possibly guarantee them that they will at least be socially distanced from everybody else” inside shelters.

The death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed 5,000 in Michigan, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Steve Saxton, a 65-year-old disaster relief volunteer at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Midland, was forced out of his home as the dams failed.

Saxton said he is thankful the Tittabawassee River crested at about three feet below the forecast 38 feet, which kept flood waters about nine feet at his home. While his basement was flooded completely, the first floor of his home sustained about six inches of water.

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Source: Baptist Press