Seventh-day Adventist church leaders in Puerto Rico are assessing the needs among their members and the community at large in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, which brought damaging winds and flooding on September 18, 2022. The Category 1 hurricane caused power outages, triggered landslides, uprooted trees, and damaged roads and bridges.
“The intensity of the winds was much less than when Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, but it was still concerning to hear the strong winds howling and the electrical storms all around,” Luis Rivera, president of the church in Puerto Rico, said. “It rained more than I’ve ever seen in such a short period of time.”
Days later, most of the island is still without power and the communication infrastructure is in a weakened state. A third of the country has no running water in communities closest to rivers and streams in the south, west, and northern parts of the island, Rivera said. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed.
District pastors and church elders have been trying to connect with church members to assess their needs and offer spiritual support. Schools and churches have remained closed while traffic lights are repaired and debris is cleared, he said.
Rivera, who was able to tour parts of the island this week and was briefed by regional church leaders on the hurricane’s effects on schools, churches, employees, and members’ homes, said about a dozen church employees’ homes were seriously affected.
Most Schools Remain Closed
“Most of the churches resisted the winds,” Rivera said. “Detailed assessments of damage to other church properties are still pending.” Adventist schools have remained closed this week except for schools in the eastern part of the island, which began classes on September 21, he added. School officials are planning to complete the cleanup this week so they can resume classes next week.
The church’s Antillean Adventist University in Mayagüez, which is in the western part of the island, has been affected by a power outage. Roads have been compromised, making it difficult to access some homes where some of the professors, employees, and village students live on campus. Classes were scheduled to resume on September 26 for the more than 800 students enrolled in the university, university officials said.
Bella Vista Hospital, a health care institution operated by the church, stayed open during and after the hurricane thanks to its generators and water reserves, Rivera reported. “A group of employees and physicians stayed at the hospital, along with the emergency team, to oversee the care and safety of the 46 patients who were staying at the hospital,” he said. Ambulatory services and elective surgeries have resumed.
ADRA Assesses Needs and Provides Food
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Puerto Rico is assessing the needs of a number of communities in the southern part of the island that were most affected by Fiona. Church and ADRA leaders still need to do more assessments in the north and some lower areas in the west where rivers flooded hundreds of residences.
A group of ADRA regional leaders and volunteers began cleaning up debris and providing food and other much needed items. They will soon distribute mattresses.
“We are looking forward to joining local funds with what ADRA International can provide and other partners so that we can swiftly supply the emerging needs of this disaster,” Rivera said.
Pointing to God’s Word
The church’s two radio stations are providing information in the aftermath of the hurricane and encouraging listeners to take refuge in the Word of God every day.
“Many of our members are encouraged and helping one another, and we hope to be able to reopen church services and activities soon,” Rivera said.
His message has been clear as he speaks to leaders, members, and radio listeners as well. “We can find certainty in the promises of a loving God that cares for those who are suffering,” Rivera said. “Suffering will not last forever because there is a rescue plan for humanity, and it is a moment to put our trust in God for He is with us in the midst of this difficult situation.”
Puerto Rico’s national emergency provides opportunities to serve the community, Rivera said. “It’s a time to help rebuild or assist them in recovering what they have lost while showing them evidence of the love of God through acts of kindness.”
For Rivera, Hurricane Fiona felt all too familiar, as it became the fourth natural disaster to hit Puerto Rico within the last five years. In addition to Fiona, he remembers the two hurricanes in 2017 and an earthquake in 2020. “The church will continue to move forward in providing relief to affected families in the community and continue to keep its schools, churches, and institutions running.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has more than 33,000 members worshiping in 318 churches and congregations in Puerto Rico. The church also operates 16 primary and secondary schools, a university, a hospital, and a clinic on the island.