After Hurricane Idalia passed inland, officials rated it as the most powerful hurricane to hit Florida’s Big Bend region since the 1896 Cedar Keys hurricane. Four people died in Idalia-related incidents in Florida and Georgia. Early estimates placed insured losses at $2.2 to $5 billion.
Assessors from North Carolina’s Baptists on Missions had been staged just north of the affected area as Idalia roared through and were early on the scene to assess and coordinate with Florida and federal officials. After assessing the on-ground needs, they called TBM Disaster Relief leaders for assistance. The Texans responded with chainsaw teams, man-lift towers, heavy machinery, an asset protection team and chaplains.
The North Carolina team brought chainsaws, a feeding team, chaplains, children’s workers and a laundry/shower unit.
Art Brandenburg served as blue cap, or team leader, for TBM’s Collin County chainsaw team.
Brandenburg, a member of Hunter’s Glen Baptist Church in Plano, said the biggest need for his team was the removal “of the tops of trees where the limbs are broken. Around here (Live Oak, Fla.), those trees are pretty high, and they cannot get to them. They're over their houses or their cars, their entryways, and they just need help getting those down.”
But in addition to making residents’ homes safe, Brandenburg and his team noticed a pattern in the survivors they’d helped: A pattern that reflected the economics of the area they were serving.
“This lady we’re helping now and the last lady where we were just seemed to be in the vulnerable set,” he observed. “This lady is widowed, the last one was divorced and alone.
“There are a lot of elderly people we’ve worked with that don't have a lot of money,” he added. “They can't hire people to come out and fix their homes. They will try to hire people, but they just can't afford them. They have nobody else to call on to help, and the people they do call either can't or won't.”
He called the Collin County team members “a really experienced team. We have multiple people that can operate in the lift, several trained climbers and really good ground people, experienced on chainsaws. They're very efficient and they all work well together, so we're able to get a lot of things accomplished.”
By Sept. 15, the team and another TBM relief chainsaw team had completed 2,500 hours of service for 32 homes and led two people to Christ.
Team member Gary Monroe, a member of Bounds Baptist Church in Powderly, Texas, also serves as TBM’s state assessing coordinator. He said the Idalia damage in the Live Oak, Florida, area had been “a little bit different” than many other hurricanes he’d assessed.
“Well, most of the damage has, fortunately, been on sheds and outbuildings and in the yards,” he shared. “There hasn't been a lot of tree damage on houses which we usually see after hurricanes and certainly tornadoes and stuff, so it's been a little bit different on this one, but we're grateful and we do the job.”
Monroe said the group is “probably one of the premier chainsaw teams in Texas. Most of us have worked together for many, many years. I started in 2013 and met most of these people not too long after that.”