published Saturday, November 24th, 2012

Ten-man crew from Chattanooga area Baptist churches helps New Yorkers pick up pieces

Island Park, N.Y., city employees help haul away flooring, drywall and other materials removed from houses by members of a Hamilton County Baptist Association disaster relief team.
Photo by Jim Denham
Island Park, N.Y., city employees help haul away flooring, drywall and other materials removed from houses by members of a Hamilton County Baptist Association disaster relief team. Photo by Jim Denham

From the outside, the homes in Island Park, N.Y., looked fine. Inside, they appeared to have been stirred with a stick.

Doyle Pittman, coordinator of disaster relief for the Hamilton County Baptist Association, was part of a 10-man crew from five local churches that recently headed north, geared up for a week of flood recovery work in a neighborhood of Long Island devastated by Hurricane Sandy in late October.

But the scope of the destruction went beyond what they expected, Pittman said.

"It was just overwhelming," he said.

The crew was summoned through the Tennessee Baptist Convention and worked through a Baptist incident command in the area. Some of the men had been craftsmen and tradesmen during their careers, but all were trained in disaster relief.

Among the crew's jobs were making an assessment of damage, cleaning or removing ruined drywall and flooring, carrying damaged belongings from the home and spraying walls and floors to prevent mold, mildew and bacteria.

The neighborhood in which the crew worked was four miles from the coast, which faced fiercer winds and sustained the worst damage. Yet even where they were, members said, each home had 3 to 4 feet of water.

"We were the first ones as a recovery unit in this particular area of Island Park," said crew chief Jim Denham, a landscape contractor by trade. "People started coming out of the woodwork. They were pleading and begging, 'Could you do the same thing in our home?'"

One of the most difficult parts, said Pittman, was getting homeowners to make a decision about what to keep and what they didn't.

"We'd carry what they [didn't] want to keep out to the curb," he said.

One home was occupied by a never-married woman in her 60s with no family, Denham said. A friend drove her away while the crew disposed of her furniture.

"She'd lost everything," he said. "We were trying to assist her, but it was pretty traumatic for her."

Crew men, most of whom are retired and some of whom worked other disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said they'd heard the estimated value of the work the volunteers did was around $40,000.

Work had to be prioritized to the most immediate needs, said Denham, who as crew chief also kept up with paperwork for the Tennessee Baptist Convention, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We wanted to help others," he said, "but this is something that will go on for a long time."

Still, New Yorkers were appreciative of the work that could be done, said Pittman.

"They'd come up to us in restaurants and thank us," he said. "The homeowners were blown away."

The unit's chaplain, Jim Teague, a member of Red Bank Baptist Church, was there for the crew but also for the people in the area, said Denham. As Teague walked the streets in the area, he'd gather information and pass on phone numbers.

"He'd spend time and let [homeowners] talk," he said. "He would share God's love in a time of loss," offering "a warm, caring heart."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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