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Hurricanes Threaten Lives and Livelihoods in Caribbean: Update and Call for Prayers


NOTE: This post was originally published on the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.

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

Disaster and Hunger – Harvey’s Long-Lasting Effect


“Disasters are a leading cause of hunger, affecting all aspects of food security: economic and physical access to food, availability and stability of supplies, and nutrition,” according to the World Food Programme. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that as much as 25 percent of the damage and economic losses caused by disasters in developing countries falls on the agriculture sector – a huge problem when we consider the sheer number of people dependent on agriculture worldwide.

The immediate losses of homes and lives caused by Hurricane Harvey have been devastating in Texas:

But these numbers don’t fully capture the long-term and long-range effects the disaster may have on food security and the economy, particularly for farmers in Texas and beyond. Whether left in the fields or stored in bulk, crops such as grain, corn, wheat cotton are all likely to be affected.

“I can’t think of a crop that is designed to handle four feet of rain in a short period of time,” Mike Steenhoek said in a recent interview. Steenhoek is the executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. While many crops in Texas have already been harvested, anything still waiting for harvest will be at a risk of a total loss. Crops that have been harvested – rice, corn and the like – are at risk of contamination from floodwaters.

Even crops shipped from other states are at risk because of structural damage to infrastructure. Damage to roads and railroad lines may cause grain elevator operators to lower commodity prices that are paid to farmers from as far away as Kansas and Illinois. Steenhoek estimates that nearly a quarter of the country’s wheat is shipped through the Texas Gulf region, creating uncertainty for farmers across the country.

The road to recovery from Hurricane Harvey will be long. The pictures and videos coming across the news wires today are important calls to action to respond in the here-and-now, but as a recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune points out, “it’s important to remember Houston and neighboring areas once the sun is shining” and the storm (and media attention) has passed. Lutheran Disaster Response, the ELCA’s primary ministry accompanying communities faced by disaster, has been hard at work through its affiliate in the area to respond to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. But we know from experience that this will be a years-long effort. Local congregations and affiliates of Lutheran Disaster Response are still at work in communities now years past their own disasters.

We also know that hurricane season is far from over, and even now, authorities are keeping a close eye on Hurricane Irma as it winds its way across the Atlantic.

It may be easy to see vulnerability to storms like Harvey as a regional issue, but with the widespread effects on food supply and livelihoods for farmers, the effects of disaster aren’t limited by regional or state borders. Thankfully, neither is the concern of our church and of other people of goodwill. Please keep in your prayers the people affected – directly or indirectly – by the storm, the first-responders working tirelessly to assist victims and the many folks who will be invested in long-term recovery.

For more information on the recovery effort, visit the Lutheran Disaster Response blog to sign up for updates. You can also read an article featuring interviews with staff from Lutheran Disaster response here. To support Lutheran Disaster Response’s accompaniment of communities affected by Hurricane Harvey and other hurricanes in the United States, please visit