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Hurricane destroys 45,000+ PR homes

BY GEORGE PIPER | PUERTO RICO | September 30, 1998

PUERTO RICO (Sept. 30, 1998) -- People and money are flowing into Puerto

Rico to help local residents restore their lives following the devastation

left behind by Hurricane Georges.

There has been some response from nearly every disaster relief

organization as the small U.S. commonwealth cleans up from a storm that

zigzagged across the landscape and spread its impact throughout the island.

Georges caused an estimated $2 billion in Caribbean damage and is blamed

for at least 370 deaths, including more than 350 in the neighboring

Dominican Republic and Haiti. Many of the region's agricultural interests

have been devastated.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates 33,113 homes

destroyed in Puerto Rico alone, with nearly more 50,000 suffering major or

minor damage. About 20,000 people are still being housed in 225 shelters.

To combat clean water concerns, the agency expects to deliver 200,000

gallons of water and 100,000 pounds of ice daily to the commonwealth.

Church World Service has already issued an appeal of $50,000 to begin

preliminary relief and assessment efforts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican

Republic and Haiti. In addition, CWS is sending one of its disaster

response consultants to Puerto Rico help coordinate efforts to create a

long-term recovery plan.

"The biggest challenge facing the faith groups and the government in

their response is in the remote villages," said the Rev. Gil Furst, direct

of Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR).

In the capital city of San Juan and other large cities, electricity,

telephone and water service have largely been restored. Rural areas,

though, may not have these basic needs met for three or four weeks, Furst


Scores of Puerto Ricans -- mostly elderly and the poor young -- are

homeless after Georges flattened wood homes with tin roofs. Concrete homes

that withstand hurricane-force winds are the construction trend in Puerto

Rico. "(The wood homes) simply haven't met the standards of surviving a

hurricane of this magnitude," noted Furst, who spent four days in the

commonwealth and plans to return again next week.

While the dollar figure attached to destruction is high, Puerto Rico

prepared well for the storm, Furst said. People took the storm warnings

serious and stocked up on food and batteries. The government was well

organized and responded quickly, added Furst.

LDR is working directly with its local pastors there as well as with the

interfaith response organization. In addition, LDR will bring people in

from the Virgin Islands and New Jersey to oversee rebuilding and


Other organizations are preparing or executing various responses

throughout the Caribbean.

Adventist Community Services (ACS) is working with the state of New York

to manage donated goods collections for disaster response to the Caribbean.

Three centers have been established, and the organization is investigating

a similar proposal in Massachusetts.

At least two C-130 transport planes have flown to the Caribbean with

items collected from the centers, including water, food and clothing.

Two food kitchens are in Puerto Rico with two more arriving by week's

end, courtesy of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist

Conference. Mickey Caison, the organization's national disaster relief

director, said cleanup and rebuilding teams will follow.

The American Baptist Mission Center approved an emergency grant to aid

in relief efforts undertaken by the Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico.

Disciples of Christ has sent an initial grant to its Puerto Rican

churches and contributed toward the CWS appeal to help with recovery

efforts in the Caribbean.

Mennonite Disaster Services will be sending volunteers to Puerto Rico as

soon as it is practical.

The United Church of Christ has sent a grant to its Puerto Rican

conference for electric generators. The UCC of Puerto Rico also has

organized distribution centers for food, blankets and other material goods

Furst expressed surprise -- and relief -- that the U.S. Virgin Islands

fared well. FEMA reported only about 20 homes destroyed and another 50

damaged. Adherence to building codes likely prevented further damage.

"I frankly expected to see massive destruction the way we saw it after

Hurricane Hugo," said Furst.

From a resource perspective, Furst is concerned that the Caribbean disaster

is already becoming old news. "Part of the challenge of the faith community

is to keep telling the story and keep raising the need," he said, noting

the importance of material donations and volunteers to help clean up and

rebuild affected communities.

Posted: September 30, 1998

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