Cuba (MNN) — Nearly a week after Hurricane Sandy struck the Caribbean, Cuba is still struggling to come back online.
The storm took out the coffee crop, and damage assessments are expected to exceed those of Hurricane Dennis in 2005. At that time, the damage was about 6% of the GDP. There were many homes in the pending stages of recovery from Dennis, which made Sandy's trail of destruction even more costly.
Baptist Global Response executive director Jeff Palmer explains, "We're dealing with an area that has a lot of poverty to begin with, [with] substandard housing. Thankfully, the hurricane went right across fairly quickly, but it did substantial damage."
BGR teams in the Caribbean were already taking stock of emergency needs even as Hurricane Sandy plowed its way up the eastern coast of the United States with 85-mph winds and a more volatile than normal storm surge.
The storm left in its wake at least 62 people dead, and hundreds of thousands homeless. "It may be a little over 100,000 homeless in Cuba. So, there are immediate needs for water, for food, and then eventually for some repairs, and maybe some rebuilding of homes."
On an interesting note, says Palmer, "Our local partners who have trained, who have responded in the past, have already been contacted by government officials saying, ‘What can you do?' So that's raised their status." It's a break in the ice, because "Compassion ministries always are a softening tool and always a good way to share the compassion of Christ. It leads to opportunities to share."
The Cuba response falls under a Level 2 event, or a mid-level emergency. "So locally, if we can get resources into the hands, most of the Cuban partners there–the believers–can handle most of the response themselves."
The needs? "Right now, the request is food and water. And then for the homes so far, the request has been mainly tin roofing. That seems to be most of the damage; the roofs were blown off."
Baptist Global Response released $5,000 in emergency funds over the weekend and anticipates providing another $35,000 for relief efforts within a few days, said David Brown, who with his wife, Jo, directs BGR work in the Americas. Brown noted that he has been receiving "a deluge of e-mails" from Cuba with reports of damage and requests for assistance, as well as from stateside partners that have begun formulating plans to respond.
One of those e-mails came late Oct. 26 from Eastern Cuba Baptist pastor Victor Manuel Quesada, who was part of an assessment team that headed into one of the worst-hit areas: the city of Santiago. He shared, "The situation is indescribable. Families are without homes. Electric, hydraulic, and communication are out of service. Most of the churches in the city have been deeply affected. Many of our brothers lost everything; some of them have passed away."
"State conventions and churches in the U.S. have been seeking information via BGR concerning prayer support, volunteer opportunities, and financial support to the crisis," Brown said. "I expect that the needs in Cuba and Jamaica will be overwhelming for local Baptists to respond."
Palmer added, "As they begin to respond, they're going to be in communities that have been hit, and it'll be a great example of saying, ‘Here's a way that we're showing the love of Christ.' And again, most of the work being done by local believers themselves is just an easy way to segue into sharing Truth."
Those interested in helping with the disaster response may donate to BGR's General Disaster Relief Fund. Any identified need for volunteers will be coordinated through the disaster relief offices of Southern Baptist state conventions.