The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief organization sprung into action this weekend to help local residents after last week's torrential rainfall led to extensive flooding and home damage in several parts of the county.

Sam Rikard, member of First Baptist Church of Olive Branch, organized the teams this weekend and said that about 36 homes were assessed for water damage by the organization. About half of these homes needed assistance, while the rest of the homeowners had cleanup under control, had insurance companies taking care of cleanup or did not have substantial flooding. Rikard said that the organization's work is particularly beneficial for homeowners whose insurance doesn't cover flood damage. Teams found minor to major damages this weekend.

"Some of the homes had 14-15 inches of water flow through the entire house," Rikard said. "Some of the homes just had one corner of one room affected. Some of them had 2 or 3 inches of water in the house."

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the third largest relief organization in the country behind the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, serves people all over who are affected by various types of disasters. Volunteers in Mississippi are sent to serve wherever there is a need, both in the state or surrounding states like Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama. And if Mississippi needs additional help, other states will send volunteers here.

"The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief organization has a long history of assisting over the last several decades," Rikard said. "They respond anywhere there's a disaster. We've had teams from DeSoto County down on the coast, down in Louisiana over the last couple of years, flooding just recently in the Hattiesburg area and south-central Mississippi. We're willing to go just about anywhere."

In times of crisis, Disaster Relief does anything from tearing up damaged walls and floors to cutting down trees to preparing food for volunteers and victims. The organization also helped out after a tornado hit Holly Springs right before Christmas about four years ago.

Services are free to victims and are paid for by the annual Margaret Lackey Missions Offering, the Southern Baptist state missions offering. Volunteer work during times of flooding is especially crucial for those unable to do the work themselves or who run the risk of being exposed to a humid environment where mold can grow quickly.

This weekend's team, which consisted of members from FBCOB, Colonial Hills Baptist Church, Longview Point Baptist Church and even Tunica County, worked mainly on Wellington Drive off Hacks Cross Road and the Fox Run subdivision off of Alexander Road. Their work consisted of ripping up carpeting and laminate flooring, cutting sheetrock, making sure walls are dry and won't develop mold, removing hazards from the house, carrying furniture to the street and providing a listening ear.

"This is a traumatic time for them," Rikard said. "Yesterday there was a lady we were talking with who broke down crying a couple times because everything in her house was damaged and she didn't know what in the world she was going to do. If the opportunity's right, you gather around and have a prayer with them, and you hope that you're able to spread Christ's love through that avenue also."

Rikard, the former mayor of Olive Branch, has only been involved in this ministry for a couple of years but already has much experience in emergency response and quickly agreed to participate when asked to form the team.

"I was a volunteer firefighter for 20 years," Rikard said. "My interaction with emergency management has just always been of interest to me. When Dr. Kerr asked me to help form a unit here at the church, he envisioned one much larger involving multiple churches in the Olive Branch area that would all come together and respond if there was a need. I said 'Well that sounds like something that I would have a little background in and interest in.'"

Rikard encourages more people to become involved in serving those affected by life-changing disasters.

"It's a busy world," Rikard said. "Most of the people who come to the training all have jobs, and it's hard to get away. You can't schedule disasters every weekend. They happen on Mondays and Tuesdays too. [But] I'm hoping that we get more interest out of the people from our church to get involved."

Brent Walker is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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