By Jenn Dorsch Messler
The Church of the Brethren Puerto Rico District continues to ask for prayer for those affected by earthquake aftershocks and tremors continuing daily. More than 1,200 small earthquakes have occurred in Puerto Rico since Dec. 28, 2019. Several quakes over magnitude 5.0 have caused great damage, especially in the south, with the largest being 6.4 magnitude on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
The district and Brethren Disaster Ministries have been in close communication as critical needs are being identified. Pastors and district leaders will be meeting on Jan. 25 to discuss future district response plans based on identified needs and to determine if additional funds will be required for that work.
A $5,000 grant from the Emergency Disaster Fund has been approved to enable the district to start addressing emergency essentials. Some of this will include support to Río Prieto Church of the Brethren, which is supporting a tent city where 23 adults, 2 babies, and 6 children are currently residing. District executive minister José Calleja Otero will be visiting the Río Prieto camp site with district disaster coordinator José Acevedo to offer emotional support and guidance this coming Tuesday, and will be working on a list of supplies that is needed at that camp site.
To contribute financially to the Puerto Rico relief effort donate online at www.brethren.org/edf (put “Puerto Rico earthquake” in the note box) or send checks to the Emergency Disaster Fund, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120 (write “Puerto Rico earthquake” in the notation line).
The priority is providing shelter
The earthquakes have brought great stress and an emotional toll on residents, even those who have not had damage to their homes. Power has returned in most places, although in some areas it has been intermittent over the last few days, but the experience has bought up memories of the past trauma of losing power and water after Hurricane Maria. The continued tremors, no matter how small, bring fear back daily.
The priorities for officials and relief groups are to provide shelter and counseling support as well as damage and structural assessments. With the ongoing aftershocks, it is expected that these needs will extend for weeks or longer with many families remaining out of their homes.
A Major Disaster Declaration has been signed for Puerto Rico, but it will cover only specific municipalities in the hardest hit south and not the areas around the three Church of the Brethren congregations located in the central mountains.
As of Jan. 16, FEMA reports there are 41 official shelters open on the island with around 8,000 occupants. They are working to establish 5 survivor base camps or tent cities in different areas of the hardest-hit municipalities.
Unofficial tent cities in areas farther north also are being discovered, as people affected by the earthquakes are moving into the mountains for safety during the continued daily tremors. Some of the tent cities are close to the Brethren churches in the mountains, including the one supported by Rio Prieto congregation and one supported by the town of Castañer in the square where the Heifer International anniversary celebration took place just a few months ago.
The reasons that so many people are seeking shelter in these camps vary and are complex. Some people’s homes are completely destroyed while others were damaged, and residents are unsure if they are safe. Other people are simply afraid to sleep inside at all because of the continued tremors.
At Castañer Church of the Brethren, where the Brethren Disaster Ministries hurricane rebuilding project is based, power has been restored and most of the buildings did not sustain damage. Disaster response leaders have been working this week to prepare for the first volunteer group of 2020, scheduled to arrive this weekend to continue Hurricane Maria rebuilding efforts.
— Jenn Dorsch Messler is director of Brethren Disaster Ministries. For more information go to www.brethren.org/bdm . To contribute financially to the Puerto Rico relief effort donate online at www.brethren.org/edf (put “Puerto Rico earthquake” in the note box) or send checks to Emergency Disaster Fund, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120 (write “Puerto Rico earthquake” in the notation line).