October 9, 2015

Hurricane Joaquin Badly Damages 6 Churches in The Bahamas

A powerful hurricane badly damaged or destroyed at least six Seventh-day Adventist churches in The Bahamas, local church leaders said as they struggled to assess the destruction and account for church members a week after the Caribbean disaster.

Hurricane Joaquin flooded buildings and ripped off roofs amid two days of fierce winds of up to 140 miles an hour (225 kilometers per hour) on Oct. 1 and 2. The devastation left by the category four hurricane has made it difficult to reach islands south of the capital, Nassau, and some areas are only accessible by helicopter.

No one in The Bahamas is known to have died in the hurricane, but a cargo ship with 33 sailors disappeared 36 miles (58 kilometers) to the northeast of its Crooked Island. Authorities say it will take months for the country to recover.

On Crooked Island, Adventist pastor Howard Barr and his wife, Patronella, lived in a home adjacent to the Landrail Point Adventist Church, where Barr worked. They had to flee their home as the winds intensified.

“God is good, God is good,” Patronella Barr said as she described their experience of riding out Hurricane Joaquin.

As the sounds of raging water, breaking glass, and snapping tree branches became louder and more frequent, the married couple quickly realized that their home would not be able to withstand the storm. So they took refuge in a neighbors’ house. Eventually, they had to climb up into the attic to escape rising floodwaters.

“My body was aching from sitting for hours in that attic,” Barr said. “I was praying to God that the water wouldn’t rise to the ceiling because if we had to break through the roof, I think we all would have died.”

Downed communication towers on Crooked Island. The only form of communication with the island is satellite phones. (Lorenzo Moss / IAD)

The couple was rescued hours later by another neighbor in a boat. As Patronella Barr caught a glimpse of the destroyed home and church outside, all she could do was give God thanks for sparing their lives. The floodwaters had risen to five feet (1.5 meters).

British rescuers evacuated Patronella Barr and other residents to Nassau this week. Pastor Barr stayed behind in the home of the church’s head elder. Several other community members were also staying in the elder's home.

Pastor Barr was trying to learn the extent of damages on neighboring Acklins Island, where he also pastors a church with 50 members. He said he had heard talk of devastation in Acklins, but direct communication with the island has been cut off and the only people who have caught a glimpse of it are in rescue-and-relief aircraft.

Church leaders at the Atlantic Caribbean Union, which oversees the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos, said the exact condition of all six affected churches was unclear because some are located in non-accessible areas.

“We continue to make contact with the residents of the southeastern Bahamas, and we are pouring out all available resources to bring relief to those affected,” said Leonard Johnson, president of the Atlantic Caribbean Union. “We give God thanks for spared lives, and as a church family we are working together to rebuild and restore.”

Nearly 300 church members live in the affected areas of Crooked Island, Long Island, Acklins, San Salvador, and Cat Island.

Two Adventist churches on Long Island, a third on San Salvador, and a fourth on Cat Island also suffered tremendous damage, and many local residents have been evacuated, said Paul Scavella, president of the South Bahamas Conference. Scavella traveled with a team of church administrators to the islands to assess the damage.

Scavella, who is acting ADRA coordinator in the southern Bahamas, said humanitarian aid was pouring in to Nassau from Adventist churches and communities across the country and would be shipped to the affected islands shortly.

“People are donating funds, personal and food items, and cleaning equipment, and the conference is organizing and executing the shipment of the items to the affected areas,” Scavella said.

A group of church volunteers, organized into a group called the Volunteer Bahamas Adventist, are mobilizing additional volunteers before leaving for those islands, he said.

“Because there isn’t much transportation going to these islands, ADRA is most effective by sending a few volunteers and supplies,” he said.

The church has purchased five power generators for pastors in those islands.