Disaster Relief New England in Puerto Rico
by Janet Stowell
Editor’s Note: New England Disaster Relief volunteers Janet Stowell and Charles Hurdle were two of the first 100 people allowed into Puerto Rico for recovery efforts. They were part of a crew of 27 from the Northeast. The team served in Puerto Rico from Oct. 8 – 21.
From the moment I landed in San Juan, I saw a broken and hurting island. The electricity on most of the island was still nonexistent. Drinking water was scarce, and refrigerated foods were very limited. There was no air conditioning, and the airport was filled with people leaving because the conditions were becoming so poor. There was no FEMA or ARC that I saw. The roads were in poor shape, and in some parts of the island they were impassable.
Our team was assigned to one of the poorest and crime-filled neighborhoods in Arecibo, a city about 80 miles west of San Juan. After spending Sunday night on a Merchant Marine ship, we arrived to a dark courtyard about 9 p.m., set up our beds in the dark and went to sleep not knowing what the next day would look like, but hopeful we could make a difference.
The team was given 36 hours of meals and placed at the First Baptist Church of Arecibo, which had no electricity or drinkable water. The kitchen had no refrigeration and very limited equipment, not even an oven, because the "pilot light" was electric. Since I was the team's "cook" I had to procure the ingredients for our meals, which meant driving to many stores and standing in long lines just to get inside to find only some of the items I was looking for. I saw a case of Coke (24 cans) selling for $17.50 and limits on how many cases of bottled water (1 per visit) I could buy as a large man stood over a pallet of water with menacing looks. On my travels I saw homeless children, abandoned pets and destroyed homes with piles of family possessions on the sidewalks. These were the conditions the people of Puerto Rico were living in.
It wasn't a very great beginning, but our team members came forward to overcome the problems we were facing at camp and in the neighborhood. A generator was brought and a freezer was turned into a cooling unit so meat would not spoil and drinking water could be cooled. A water filtration system was set up. As time went by, our water situation went from non-drinkable to non-existent, so team members called home asking for prayer that our water be restored, and it was, with better quality and quantity than before. Reports from the Recovery and Chain Saw crews came back filled with hope. People were coming out of their homes and helping the teams and each other with new energy. The Gospel was shared and people were being saved. A local school was cleaned up and approved for repairs by the local government with plans to reopen the next week.
The church family at First Baptist Church of Arecibo was warm, loving and accepting. They were thrilled to have us there and spent many hours helping us. Pastor Jorge Alvarez worked long hours connecting with the locals to determine needs. He conducted two prayer walks and an open house at the church. Eight people accepted Christ at these events – one of them was the principal of the school the Recovery team was working at.
For me personally, I stood amazed at what God did through our team. To Him be the Glory!
Janet Stowell is a disaster relief volunteer. She is a member of Thetford Baptist Church in Thetford Center, Vt.