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Volunteers needed in Puerto Rico as Baptist relief moves to new stage

SAN JUAN (BP)–Southern Baptist disaster relief feeding units began pulling out of hurricane-raged Puerto Rico Oct. 21 as efforts shift to securing volunteer teams for rebuilding and repairing damaged churches and homes.
The withdrawal, however, is far from an indicator that conditions are back to normal. One month after Hurricane Georges blasted through the island on its deadly path across the Caribbean, about a fourth of the population is still without power — many with no relief in sight for several months. Nine thousand refugees remain in shelters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency reports more than 250,000 residents have applied for federal disaster assistance due to Georges in Puerto Rico. This exceeds the previous record of 185,600 applications taken in Florida following Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
Southern Baptist feeding operations, which from the start have been supplemental to local efforts, are being phased out as power is restored and feeding responsibilities are reassigned to National Guard-staffed kitchens, according to Fred Kinsey, on-site coordinator for the Puerto Rico operation and volunteer disaster relief coordinator for Southern Baptists in Michigan.
Five feeding units – involving volunteers from Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama and a joint team from Indiana, Missouri and Michigan – prepared more than 88,000 meals through Oct. 20.
Many of the meals have been served by disaster relief workers and local volunteers from feeding lines, providing meals for individuals living in their homes but without power or water in many cases. Much of the food was also trucked by National Guard and Red Cross workers into the remote mountainous regions in the commonwealth’s interior, which suffered the brunt of the damage.
About 15 of the approximately 70 Southern Baptist churches in Puerto Rico also suffered extensive damage. Calvary Baptist Church in San Juan, for instance, lost the roof from the second floor of their building — the living quarters for pastor Gilberto Rufat and his family. Many of their possessions were ruined, and the structure will be torn down and rebuilt completely
“I have moved to a house that is in front of my father, and the church is paying the rent,” Rufat said, adding that federal disaster assistance is expected to help with the loss.
In another example, Grace Baptist Church in Yauco near the island’s southern coast also was destroyed. Pastor Carlos Pacheco said the church already had been planning to relocate to larger quarters adjacent to the building, which was located at the front of his father’s property.
Both structures were built of wood, typical of buildings that suffered damage. Official building codes in Puerto Rico usually call for all-concrete construction because of the constant threat of hurricane winds and flooding. But many buildings — and most of those damaged — are either completely wood-frame construction or have wood-frame roofs.
No major injuries were reported among church members anywhere on the island, according to Rafael Rodriguez, a North American Mission Board missionary who serves as Disaster Relief director and volunteer coordinator for Southern Baptists in Puerto Rico.
Individuals and groups interested in participating in long-term rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico should contact Mickey Caison, disaster relief coordinator for the North American Mission Board, at (770) 410-6442.

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  • James Dotson