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Farmers hit hard by hurricane


SOUTHEASTERN GA (Oct. 1, 1998) -- As the tropical depression that once

was Hurricane Georges spins its way east today, farmers across the south

hope their fields will dry out in time to save their peanut and cotton


Farmers throughout the region, suffered from an unusually dry summer and

while many welcome the needed rain, it came at the wrong time -- right in

the midst of harvest.

"We need to get some sunshine in here so the farmers can get back out in

their fields," said Emory Murphy, assistant executive director of the

Georgia Peanut Commission.

Less than a quarter of the peanut harvest has been completed. Farmers

need the sun to reappear to dry out the crop before it can be separated

from the vine.

Agriculture officials are also concerned about the cotton and pecan crops. It isn't the rain as much as wind that may have impacted these farms. Ma

ny farmers who lost trees when Hurricane Earl blew through earlier this

year have also reported damages in the wake of Georges.

While the agricultural community assesses its losses, residents of

Florida and Georgia are picking up the pieces following several tornadoes

that were spawned out of the remnants of the hurricane.

The most damage was reported in Live Oak, FL where a tornado touched

down early Wednesday and destroyed at least a half-dozen homes and injured

five people.

According Scott Pate, the coordinator of the Suwannee County Emergency

Program, the Live Oak tornado touched down shortly after midnight in this

community, located about 80 milews east of Tallahassee. Earlier, on Tuesday

night a wind storm damaged 12 mobile homes in Baxley, GA.

The twisters came as other Gulf Coast residents were getting a first

look at storm and flood damaged homes from Mississippi to Florida.

As damage assessments were made across the region, the National Weather

Service said Wednesday that the Mobile area had actually received less rain

thanoriginally feared. Forecasters had predicted as much as 30-inches might

have fallen, instead they said the total was approximately half of that.

But that statistic was of little comfort to the hundreds of residents

who were driven out of their homes by the storm's fierce winds, torrential

rains and severe flooding. The plight of residents of storm-damaged homes

has become the focus of disaster response organizations.

"I'm sure we'll have a couple of interfaith groups going," said Charles

Moeller, a disaster response facilitator with Church World Service. "I

think some things will come together very well."

Moeller, who travelled to the region Tuesday, hopes to begin meeting

with faith-based organizations this week in an effort to organize an

interfaith response to the disaster. He also planned to travel into

Mississippi and possibly the Florida Panhandle.

Those relief efforts in Mississippi and Alabama are expected to be

spearheaded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the

United Methodist Conference.

"It's still early," he said. "We're trying to assess what's going on and

we'll go from there."

Two Church World Service disaster response consultants based in Arizona

were being sent to Louisiana and Mississippi to help in damage assessments.

Adventist Community Services, meantime, put out an appeal for donations

of personal care items including groceries, blankets, cleaning supplies and

bottled water.

Emergency management personnel in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and

Florida were also assessing damages from the storm, which was downgraded to

a tropical depression. President Clinton, who has declared major disasters

or emergencies in all four state, was scheduled to visit the area as soon

as recovery operations allowed.

Damage estimates along the Gulf Coast could reach into the billions of

dollars. In the Florida Panhandle alone, insurance losses were reported in

excess of $200 million. Georges was blamed for nearly 400 deaths, nearly

all of them in the Caribbean, where it left tens of thousands of people

homeless. Four storm-related deaths were reported along the Gulf Coast.

"In some areas, there's water to rooftops and 4 to 5 feet of water in

many other homes," said George Touart, administrator in Jackson County,

Miss., after inspecting Pascagoula Tuesday. "I've never seen anything like

it in more than 50 years."

"I've been here 20 years and it's the worst rain that I've ever seen,"

said Mark O'Brien of the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center in


The Salvation Army in Pensacola, FL is maintaining a shelter in the

city, which has been housing about 100 people since last Friday. It also

set up a mobile feeding unit Tuesday morning on Pensacola beach.

"It is still dangerous to travel on our streets and roads," said Linda

Rouse, director of emergency operations for Harrison County, Miss. She

advised residents to remain home or stay in shelters until further notice.

Even so, many roads throughout the Gulf Coast were jammed with traffic

as people who evacuated the area began making their way back home. Several

roads and highways remained closed due to flooding.

In Mississippi, Baptist Disaster Relief managed to bring its new

18-wheeler "feeding station" to Pascagoula. The mobile unit, parked at the

First Baptist Church, is capable of serving 20,000 meals at a time.

Paul Harrell of Baptist Disaster Relief said smaller mobile feeding

units were being sent to Gulfport and Biloxi.

Work teams were also being activated to assist in cleanup efforts, he said.

"We have several teams going in today and a lot of teams going in Friday

and Saturday to help," Harrell said.

Georges made landfall near Biloxi early Monday and stalled about 20

miles north of the city, hammering Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and

Florida. Sustained winds of 105 mph and wind gusts of 175 mph were


There is a slight chance that the last chapter has not yet been written

on Georges. Forecasters expect the remains of the storm will move into the

Atlantic by Friday morning. When it does, "it could pick up a little bit of

steam," according to Jim Noffsinger, meteorologist with the National

Weather Service.

Updated Oct. 1, 1998

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