PERRY, Fla.—Though national media attention regarding Hurricane Idalia has ceased, recovery from the disaster continues. The category 4 storm slammed into Florida’s Big Bend region on Aug. 30. Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief teams answered the state’s call for assistance in late September and remained working in Taylor County in early October.
“We were on alert status even before Idalia hit,” SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said. “On out-of-state deployments, we don’t respond until the host state requests us. Our deployment was put on hold until Florida and Southeast Baptist DR teams cycled through. We came in and relieved them the last week of September.”
The Big Bend—also known as Florida’s Nature Coast, where the panhandle meets the peninsula—is an eight-county area densely forested and rural, far removed from big cities and popular tourist attractions, according to FloridaNatureCoast.org.
Taylor County, the southernmost county in the Big Bend, has a population of about 22,000, ranking it 54th in population out of the state’s 67 counties. In 2021, about 18% of the residents lived below the poverty line, USA Today reported.
Serving disaster survivors in rural areas such as Taylor County presents challenges. Homes are far apart and rural roads sometimes difficult to clear.
An SBTC DR chainsaw team under the direction of Monte Furrh of Bonham arrived in the Perry area first. Six volunteers worked 10-hour days for a week and completed seven time-consuming chainsaw jobs. That task included removing large limbs—known as widow-makers due to their dangerous potential to harm if left in place—from damaged trees or helping homeowners with downed trees.
“The work is with massive live oaks. It takes time,” Stice said.
Furrh’s team was relieved by another North Texas team directed by Jesse Hauptrief of Anna on Oct. 1. The team is scheduled to work through week’s end, Stice said. SBTC DR team volunteers come from across Texas, he added.
Florida homeowner Randy Newman posted his thanks for the SBTC DR team’s help on Facebook. “Them showing up to our house was a godsend,” Newman wrote. “They worked all day cutting trees, most of them ‘widow-makers.’ They started the day with a prayer for safety, our community, and for me and [my wife] personally. I can’t explain the true compassion they have for all of us involved in the storm.”
Thus far, SBTC DR teams have recorded one salvation, many spiritual contacts, and many Bibles distributed, Stice said.