This has been a devastating season of hurricanes for our neighbors throughout the Caribbean and the U.S. South. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have already left a path of destruction, and at the time of this writing, Hurricane Maria has made landfall in Puerto Rico. As response efforts begin and continue, Rev. Albert Starr, Jr., director of Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries and program director for African Descent Ministries for the ELCA, offers this update and call for our prayers for all our neighbors affected by the storms, including those on smaller islands often given too little attention in U.S. national news.
Please continue to hold our sisters and brothers throughout the Caribbean in prayer.
As efforts are being made to respond to the devastating impact of hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, plans are being made in anticipation of yet another hurricane, Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico September 20, 2017. Residents of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were urged to take shelter in the available emergency centers as many private homes have already been damaged and structurally compromised by previous storms and hurricane Irma. The island of Dominica and the U.S. Virgin Islands have already been devastated by Maria, a powerful storm right on the heels of Hurricane Irma.
Communications with the islands of St. Thomas, St. John in particular, have been sporadic at best over the past week. St. Croix and Puerto Rico experienced the least impact of hurricane Irma. We have limited reporting out from the ELCA churchwide offices so as not to inadvertently add to the level of anxiety with unverified or false information.
Our Lutheran Disaster Response team here at our churchwide office in Chicago has been in direct communication with Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands, with offices on the island of St. Croix and with Lutheran Social Services of Puerto Rico. For more information on the efforts of Lutheran Disaster Response, please visit the Lutheran Disaster Response blog or follow Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been on the ground but may withdraw staff and return after Hurricane Maria has passed.
Ms. Junia Stryker, director for Lutheran Social Services of the Virgin Islands has brought on an additional staff person whose work will be dedicated completely to hurricane response in the Virgin Islands. Their staff has not yet been able to make an on-the-ground assessment. Travel between the islands by both sea plane and ferry has been curtailed by continued unfavorable weather. The airport on St. Thomas was restricted to emergency and military air traffic only. St. John does not have a commercial airport.
As of this past week here are some of the effects from Hurricane Irma:
St. Thomas and St. John
- Frederick Church sustained damages and is worshiping in the parish hall building.
- Nazareth Church on St. John island received some damage but is standing. The parsonage was destroyed. St. John is without power and running water. We have heard from Pastor Carlyle Sampson indirectly that he is well but without means of connecting and communicating with all the members across the island. This is true of the ministries and pastors on St. Thomas as well.
- The hospital on St. Thomas has been destroyed. Patients have been evacuated to St. Croix, Puerto Rico and mainland U.S.
- The main power plant on St. Thomas was destroyed. Power outages continue. Cell phone access is sporadic. When possible, texting seems to be the best opportunity for connecting.
- FEMA has set up food and water distribution centers across the island.
- An island-wide 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew is being enforced.
Please continue to hold our neighbors in prayer this season. If you would like to support the efforts of Lutheran Disaster Response, please visit their “Hurricane Relief” giving page to make a gift. 100% of gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response will be mobilized to support response and recovery efforts related to the hurricanes.
Additional Ways to Give
Checks or money orders can be sent to:
Lutheran Disaster Response
P.O. Box 1809
Merrifield, VA 22116-8009
Write “Hurricane Response” on your check memo line.
Give by phone at 800-638-3522