Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 as a Category 4 storm with 155-mph winds, just two weeks after the island experienced storm damage and flooding from Hurricane Irma. Maria caused extensive damage to infrastructure, services, agriculture and structures, and left Puerto Ricans with little or no consistent access to power, safe water, and resources. Hurricane Maria is estimated to have caused about $100 billion in damages and FEMA received over 1.1 million applications for individual assistance after the storm. All seven of Church of the Brethren congregations in Puerto Rico, and their communities, were among those affected by the hurricanes.
The Brethren response to needs identified by the Puerto Rican district leadership enabled them to provide emergency relief (food, prepared meals, services, minor repairs, other assistance) within their communities. The response included:
- Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) grants ($48,000) and direct grants from several districts
- A container with over $62,000 worth of canned chicken, emergency supplies, and tools
- Funding assistance and volunteers for repairs to Caimito church and guesthouse
- BDM staff travel to Puerto Rico with supplies and messages of solidarity and support
A close partnership developed between Brethren Disaster Ministries and the Puerto Rico district to focus on a new and unique long-term rebuilding project.
- The Puerto Rico Recovery Committee, with representation across the district, formed to coordinate case managers and to review and approve EDF funds for rebuilding materials for each case.
- BDM helped to train and equip committee members and case managers.
- Joint decision-making and close coordination formed the basis of the rebuilding program.
The rebuilding phase of the recovery ran from September 2018 through June 2020. The Castañer Church of the Brethren provided housing and hospitality for BDM project leaders and volunteers. The majority of the rebuilding work served the vulnerable and underserved population in the areas surrounding Castañer.
The true value of the Puerto Rico Recovery Program, much more than the finances involved, includes an underlying foundation of love, trust, partnership, and community that did not end just because the hammers are stilled. BDM will continue to offer support to the Puerto Rico District should it be needed in the future and will be partnering to build a Children’s Disaster volunteer Program on the island in the near future.