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Post-hurricane relief efforts start, help needed in Dominican Republic

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (BP)–Yolanda Abrea had a decision to make: Stay and weather Hurricane Georges in her house or go to the storm shelter and chance losing all her possessions to thieves.
“I stayed as long as I could,” she said. “But the winds got so strong. They came and told us we needed to get to the shelter.”
Thieves didn’t get her possessions, but rains associated with the hurricane did. Nearly everything was soaked after the wind stripped away the roof of her house.
But Abrea still fared better than most in the Dominican Republic. More than 100,000 people were driven from their homes after Georges slammed into the southeast side of the island of Hispaniola. What the 110-plus-mph winds didn’t do, widespread flooding did. More than 260 people were killed and 90 percent of the nation’s food crops — mostly rice and bananas — were destroyed.
“These people are in a desperate situation,” said Eddie Pettit, a damage assessor working with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. “Storms like this just wreak havoc on people’s lives.”
Pettit’s job was to evaluate where Southern Baptist resources could be used effectively. The extensive damage across the Caribbean created an immediate need for volunteers and donations to help people rebuild their devastated lives.
The need for donations is compounded by massive flooding in Bangladesh, for which Southern Baptist missionaries also are mobilizing relief ministries.
The IMB released more than $166,000 Oct. 16 for food distribution in the Dominican Republic. Additional money will be released for roof construction as funds become available.
Financial resources are running low in the board’s general disaster relief fund due to the extensive needs in both the Caribbean Basin and Bangladesh. Donations are being used as quickly as they are received.
“This has been an incredible year for disasters,” said Ron Wilson, regional leader for the International Mission Board’s work in the Caribbean. “We know we can’t meet every need around the world, but right now we really need to have $1 million available in the general relief fund to adequately deal with the basic needs people have as a result of these two disasters.
“It is also a strategic point for ministry. We meet their basic needs, but we also share with them about the love of Jesus Christ. This gives us a tremendous platform to share the gospel.”
As in Bangladesh, flooding caused most of the deaths in the Dominican Republic. Flood damage also is a more widespread concern than the damage initially done by the hurricane.
“One thing that won’t show up in the hurricane statistics is the loss of life due to illness and disease,” Wilson said. “With the contaminated water and the mud, things like hepatitis and typhoid are going to become a real problem.”
At least five cases of typhoid have already been reported at one refugee center and several cases of dengue fever, a disease carried by mosquitoes.
Southern Baptist missionaries have distributed more than 1,000 sheets of zinc roofing materials and started a food relief program helping 720 families.
Eight roofing teams of up to six people each are needed in the Dominican Republic immediately, Wilson said. Experience in building roof trusses is desperately needed. There also is a need for another eight teams to work on St. Kitts, the Leeward Island hardest hit by Georges.
People interested in participating in a project — or in obtaining more information about future projects — may contact Mickey Caison at the North American Mission Board at (770) 410-6442 or Joyce Glover at the International Mission Board toll-free at 1-800-999-3113, ext. 1331.
Southern Baptists who want to contribute to the effort can send money gifts designated for “general relief” to: Southern Baptist World Relief, Office of Finance, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.