Update on response to Hurricane Irma

14 September 2017

The island of Sint Maarten after Hurricane Irma hit. 6 September 2017. © Ministry of Defence, Netherlands, via CC0 Creative Commons zero.

[Anglican Alliance with ACNS]

Churches and agencies are working desperately to help communities across the Caribbean and south-eastern United States devastated by Hurricane Irma. More than 40 have died and tens of thousands have been left without homes by the storm.  The eye of the hurricane passed over the tiny island of Barbuda on Thursday, going on to reach Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, followed by the Turks and Caicos Islands, Cuba and the Bahamas on Friday and Saturday.  It finally hit Florida and other parts of the South Eastern USA on Sunday.

Episcopal Relief & Development, USPG and the Anglican Alliance are among those getting involved. ERD and USPG have launched appeals, while the Anglican Alliance is using its platform to link with the affected churches and share information and calls for prayer amongst the family of churches and agencies of the Anglican Communion.

Communications have been badly disrupted but Anglican Alliance co-director, Rachel Carnegie, said harrowing stories were beginning to emerge.

“Describing the storm as a Category 5 just does not represent the true horror,” she said. “This is a whole new reality. The Alliance and Episcopal Relief & Development are starting to establish contacts with dioceses across the region and we are hearing dreadful accounts of what has happened.”

“The challenge now is to get food and water to people. Our concern is also to care for the carers – everyone is traumatised.”

The Anglican Alliance will convene a conference call in the coming days to share information about the situation across the affected region and to hear the churches evolving plans for their response.

Abagail Nelson, Senior Vice President, Programs at Episcopal Relief & Development, has been in regular contact with those in the Caribbean and US dioceses affected by the hurricanes. “The scale of this storm is enormous,” Abagail said. “The stories I have heard from the affected communities are deeply sobering. We are seeing the impact of climate change through ever more extreme weather events. When we talk about reconstruction and disaster preparedness we need to consider the disastrous severity of potential future storms on a new scale.”

The point which is raised here about the connection between climate change and extreme weather events is a story which we need to tell loud and clear as a global Communion. This is an issue of climate justice.

In a message to USPG, Archbishop John Holder, Primate of the Province of the Church of the West Indies, said: “Thanks for this note of concern and support. Some of the islands in the Diocese of the North East Caribbean and Aruba suffered significant damage. Do continue to pray for us.”

The Alliance’s facilitator in the region, Clifton Nedd, said Elenor Lawrence, the Provincial Secretary of the Church of the West Indies (CPWI), had been in touch with the Diocese of the North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba, which includes some of the islands most devastated by the hurricane. She said there has been tremendous damage and destruction of Church buildings.

Mrs Lawrence said: “The Bishop was able to inform … through someone else’s cellphone that all the church buildings in Anguilla are flat with the exception of St. Mary but that will also require extensive repairs.” She noted that there was only minimal loss of life and committed the province to “continue to pray for them.”

Clifton commented: “We thank God for the several entities, including churches, who are responding to the immediate needs.”

“We must remember that the clergy were also affected and face personal losses yet they are on the front-line of the response to the crisis; helping to heal their communities,” he continued. “As we respond I hope that we can lift up these and all other carers – specifically considering their needs.”

Earlier the Mothers’ Union issued this statement. “We, the Provincial Council of Mothers’ Union in the Province of the West Indies, representing the Dioceses of Barbados, Belize, Guyana & Suriname, Jamaica & The Cayman Islands, North Eastern Caribbean & Aruba, Trinidad & Tobago and the Windward Islands, wish to send this message of prayer and solidarity to those in our province and beyond affected by the devastation of Hurricane Irma.

We have heard with great sorrow news of how the islands of the north eastern Caribbean have been devastated like never before. We mourn with all those who have lost loved ones, especially with one of our own delegates who has lost a family member in the British Virgin Islands.”

Mothers’ Union and Church teams on the ground in the Diocese of North Eastern Caribbean and Aruba (NECA) are assessing and monitoring the situation as it develops and will be identifying how they can respond. Grants are being considered from the Mothers’ Union Disaster Fund in the Province of the West Indies and the worldwide Mothers’ Union Relief Fund once plans have been made.

Meanwhile, Paulo Ueti, Anglican Alliance facilitator for Latin America, has been in touch with the Church in Cuba.

“The situation in Cuba after the Hurricane Irma is still difficult,” Paulo said. “The communication is down in the majority of the island, so information is coming very slowly.”

Pepe Bringas, coordinator of the Development Programme of the Episcopal Church of Cuba, told Paulo that there were at least 10 deaths due the hurricane. “They are doing assessment of the situation and will report back soon. Let’s us pray for the recovery process in the island and support the work of the church together with the local government to attend the affected. Cuba has one of the best response system in the region to this events, but still support is needed. We are waiting news next week so we can move forward based on the local church’s advice.”

We continue to ask for prayers from around the Communion all those who are acting to respond in the relief effort.

Please also donate to the local appeals within the region and to the appeals set up by Episcopal Relief & Development and USPG.