North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) is gearing up to “bring hope to a desperate situation” in the coming weeks as they organize disaster relief teams to serve Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
The storm made landfall in Puerto Rico Sept. 20 as a Category 4 hurricane, sustaining winds above 150 miles per hour that decimated the U.S. territory’s infrastructure and left most of the island without power.
Nearly half of Puerto Rico’s population is without drinking water, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
NCBM Disaster Relief Director Gaylon Moss said a water purification team arrived Sept. 30, with equipment capable of removing contaminants from up to 3,000 gallons per day.
“I know that pales in comparison to 2 million people,” Moss said, “but it’s a good start.”
Officials said 85 percent of the island’s cellular towers were knocked out by the storm, along with other communication equipment, severely crippling damage assessment, rescue and relief efforts.
At least 16 people in Puerto Rico have died as a result of Maria, but that number is expected to climb as contact is reestablished and more information becomes available.
“The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years,” said Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez, according to The Associated Press. “The destruction of properties, of flattened structures, of families without homes, of debris everywhere. The island’s greenery is gone.”
NCBM, also known as Baptists on Mission, is coordinating disaster relief efforts on the island by establishing local contacts, assembling volunteer teams, planning commercial flights, transporting equipment and setting up sites for operation and distribution.
“Jesus came to be with us,” said Moss, “so we want to be with people and share God’s love in a tangible way.”
Hurricane Maria lost steam after it swept Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, downgrading to a tropical storm, but regained strength off the coast of North Carolina. The storm surge washed over some roads and beaches of the Outer Banks, according to news reports. Thousands of visitors left the area under an evacuation order, but residents were allowed to stay.
“Thankfully the effects have not been severe,” said Greg Clark, senior pastor of Manteo Baptist Church.
NCBM relief efforts are still underway in both Texas and Florida, as they recover from the havoc of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, respectively. Moss said volunteer disaster relief teams in those states – which handle logistics, administration, medical care, safety, shower and laundry units and chaplaincy – have logged nearly 52,000 hours, prepared 529,000 meals and cleaned 93 homes.
“It’s going well,” he said, “and they’re still hard at it.”
To donate online, go to baptistsonmission.org/donate. Gifts to the North Carolina Missions Offering (ncmissionsoffering.org) make disaster relief possible.