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In Irma-shattered Caribbean, Baptists arrive to help

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (BP) — Days after Hurricane Irma killed at least 34 people and destroyed entire communities in the Caribbean and West Indies, Southern Baptist partners are on site assessing the most urgent needs for assistance.

A Baptist Global Response (BGR) disaster assessment and response team (DART) arrived Sunday night (Sept. 10) in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, BGR CEO Jeff Palmer told Baptist Press today, and is working in cooperation with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to meet the immediate life-preserving needs of survivors across the region.

“We have already approved $50,000 of food relief in a joint effort with NAMB Send Relief for the Virgin Islands,” Palmer told BP. “Send Relief is committing $50,000 as well for an initial effort of $100,000 from Southern Baptists.”

Food, clean water and shelter top the list of immediate concerns, Palmer said, as communities prepare for long-term recovery and rebuilding.

“Clean, potable water sources are critical right now to prevent dehydration and intestinal issues that could cause outbreaks of diseases such as cholera,” he said. “Personnel will also find temporary lodging alternatives to provide survivors with comfort and shelter from the elements until more permanent housing is in place.”

Initial BGR assessments will focus on Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Turks, Caicos, and the Bahamas, Palmer said in an update on BGR’s website, gobgr.org.

Pastor Lennox Zamore of Ebenezer Baptist Church in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, was working today to contact fellow Southern Baptist pastors in the region.

“I still have no contact (with) the churches of St. John (Virgin Islands) where Irma was most severe,” Zamore told BP by text message today. “Only emergency transport and military (are) allowed. Besides, there is no gas.” A curfew that restricts travel from noon to 6 p.m. impedes travel, Zamore said. “I am trying to overcome all of these (impediments).”

Ebenezer Baptist lost all of its windows, Zamore said. Among churches Zamore has managed to contact, Grace Baptist Church in St. Thomas lost its roof, and Bovoni Baptist Church in Bovoni lost windows and doors and suffered internal damage.

Irma killed at least 34 people in the Caribbean including 10 in Cuba, CBS reported today. Casualties included four deaths in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Weather Channel reported, and according to The Nation, three in Puerto Rico. Among the heaviest of the widespread structural damage, 95 percent of buildings on the island of Barbuda were destroyed.

The Virgin Islands are expected to be without electricity, running water, hospitals and schools for months, Zamore said, and several hotels are damaged.

The destruction has created “great opportunities for mission trips in the area,” Zamore said, listing needs including debris removal, structural repairs, feeding and mental healthcare for post-traumatic stress disorder and other concerns.

About 60 Southern Baptist churches comprise the Convention of Southern Baptist Churches in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Southern Baptist Convention data. The U.S. territories have a combined population of about 4.1 million, including 3.5 million in Puerto Rico and 100,000 in the Virgin Islands, The Nation reported.

BGR will list damage assessment and aid updates at gobgr.org, where donors may financially support relief efforts.