Churches across the Caribbean and the southern United States have been contacted by the Anglican Alliance as concern grows for communities hit by the three hurricanes to pass through the region in under four weeks.
The Anglican Alliance has been in touch with the Archbishop of the Church of the West Indies, as well as the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos Islands, and with the individual bishops of the affected areas. Bishop Errol Brooks, the Bishop of North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba, wrote to thank the Alliance of its correspondence and the sentiments expressed. Islands in his diocese have been among the worst affected in the Province. The Alliance has also been in touch with the churches in other affected dioceses, including the British and US Virgin Islands, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Dr Janice Proud, Relief Manager at the Anglican Alliance, said: “We have organised a call for this week connecting Bishop Errol Brooks with Anglican partners around the world including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US and UK. This reflects the concern that people feel about the situation.
“As soon as other dioceses are ready the Anglican Alliance will facilitate conference calls with partners to hear about their situation and how the Anglican Communion can stand in solidarity with them,” Janice added.
Most recently, Hurricane Maria has directly struck Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, Martinique, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic, before moving on to Florida. It was the second Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the region this hurricane season, and has devastated communities already hit by previous hurricanes.
In Dominica 56,000 people are in need of shelter and water, which is about 80% of the population. In addition, the entire country’s crops have been destroyed, creating food insecurity concerns as well as questions over people’s livelihoods and the country’s economy. In Dominican Republic 11,000 people have been displaced and 1.5 million people are without a clean water supply. In Puerto Rico a major dam is leaking after infrastructural damage, with the potential to cause catastrophic damage. The British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are without electricity and so are not currently able to join a conference call. As part of The Episcopal Church, there are contacts through Episcopal Relief & Development, so some news of the devastation and urgent needs is getting out and the agency is working hard to respond.
Clifton Nedd, Anglican Alliance Regional Facilitator for the Caribbean, reflected on the path of Hurricane Maria so soon after Hurricane Irma. He said:
“It doesn’t feel real. It is unbelievable that some communities are hit again before they have had time to recover. Additionally, some communities which were responding to Irma by sending off relief supplies were hit by Maria and are now themselves in need of relief. It’s really surreal.
“I have spoken to someone who has returned from the British Virgin Islands and was able to get a picture of how things have transpired. Some of the islands were devastated, even before Maria came through.
“Hurricanes are huge systems which cover many islands. Although not directly in the path of the hurricanes, other parts of the Caribbean have felt its impact in winds and sea surges, with isolated instances of damage reported as far down as Trinidad and Barbados,” Clifton added.
Entire islands were almost wiped out by Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, which swept across the Caribbean and South Eastern United States in early September. The eye of the hurricane passed over the tiny island of Barbuda on 6 September, destroying up to 90 per cent of its housing and developments and leaving it “barely habitable”. The hurricane’s path also reached Anguilla, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, followed by the Turks and Caicos Islands, Cuba and the Bahamas. It swept across Florida on Sunday 10 September before weakening to below hurricane status. More than 100 people died and tens of thousands have been left without homes by the storm.
Hurricane Harvey was a tropical storm moving through the Caribbean, before it intensified to a Category 4 hurricane that devastated Texas, going on to hit Louisiana on 29 August. There were at least 83 confirmed deaths as well as severe damage to property. More than 32,000 people found refuge in emergency shelters whilst flood warnings stayed in place for both states.
Episcopal Relief & Development have been releasing regular updates on their website. Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Vice President of Programs, said, “The devastation throughout the Caribbean is heartbreaking… Please pray for people impacted by these life-threatening storms. There is a long road to recovery ahead for everyone.”
The Bishop of St Albans diocese in the UK, which is the link diocese with the diocese of North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba, has encouraged churches to hold a special collection and give to the Red Cross appeal to help those in the Caribbean rebuild their lives.
A donation to the Episcopal Church of Cuba can be made through the Community of the Cross of Nails.
The Bishop of Cuba, Griselda Delgado del Carpio, has written a pastoral letter to her diocese in the wake of the hurricanes. She concludes by highlighting the link between climate change and shocking severity of the recent storms:
“We give great thanks to all the brothers and sisters from so many different places, communities, churches – friends who have been in prayer continuously day after day and offer us their help, solidarity and support.
“We present our gratitude to God, only by His grace have we felt sustained in moments of great darkness. May this certainty accompany and strengthen us at all times. May we continue to help and serve those who are most fragile. That with our little bit of solidarity, we contribute the best we can in the reconstruction – not only materially but also morally, emotionally and spiritually for our people. Let us be grateful to those who are working without pause on the different fronts of action so that we can return to normal. May we humbly understand that we depend only on the love and mercy of God. And to realize that His deep Presence fills every corner of the universe.
“I invite you once again to widen the space of our tent-home-heart – that is where God allows us to meet one another today – beside one another, building together for the future.
“Finally, I urge you to become aware of the responsibility that we have before the Creation – which has been given to us by God – a gift that we have not known how to care for and protect as we should. Climate change is today already a reality and, without a doubt, so are its devastating effects.”