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Georges pummels Baptist churches in Puerto Rico; relief efforts begin

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Many of the approximately 70 Southern Baptist churches and missions in Puerto Rico were destroyed or heavily damaged by Hurricane Georges. No church members were believed among the 11 fatalities, although about half the churches still had not been contacted as of Sept. 25.
Overall, Hurricane Georges claimed more than 250 lives — the majority in the Dominican Republic — during its sweep across the Caribbean and the Florida Keys before heading into the Gulf of Mexico.
Conditions as of Sept. 25 had not allowed any Southern Baptist disaster relief units to be activated, but disaster relief leaders have been sent into affected areas to conduct damage assessment and help formulate a response. The North American Mission Board, which coordinates Southern Baptist disaster relief, is working in cooperation with the International Mission Board in the Dominican Republic and other areas that are not U.S. possessions.
Airlift feeding units in Alabama, Georgia and Texas were on alert for possible response in Puerto Rico, while feeding units in seven other states were on alert for possible response in southern Florida.
Pedro Avilés, director of the Baptist Theological Seminary in Puerto Rico and a missionary of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), said early assessment revealed several churches had been destroyed or suffered heavy damage. Several pastors’ homes also were destroyed as Georges passed through Sept. 21.
All but one of the most severely affected churches at that point had insurance coverage, he said. Monte Sinai Baptist Church in Guana Diav, located in a low-income area near San Juan, lost its entire uninsured building and contents as well as the pastor’s home, Aviles said.
“The government [Federal Emergency Management Agency] will help … with the pastor’s house. What they will not help with is the church,” he said.
The seminary itself, owned by the North American Mission Board, was significantly damaged, including two destroyed roofs and a terrace that was blown into another building. Avilés said although relatives of church members were among the fatalities, he was not aware of serious injuries or deaths among church members in the early stages of damage assessment.
Avilés asked for continued prayer as churches and church families recover from the storm, noting Southern Baptist disaster relief support was expected to begin as soon as conditions allowed.
“We thank God,” he said. “We lost a lot of material things, but people are alive. And especially when people have Christ in their heart that makes things easier.”
There are 43 North American Mission Board missionaries based in Puerto Rico, and Avilés said all were believed to be safe in the wake of the storm. Missionaries in the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands also were reported safe.

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  • James Dotson