Pastors, Send Relief serve survivors after Puerto Rico quake

By Brandon Elrod

YAUCO, Puerto Rico—“People are still very scared,” Jonathan Santiago said of residents in Puerto Rico who endured a 6.4 magnitude earthquake early Tuesday morning (Jan. 7). The ensuing aftershocks and tremors have been ongoing, and it is nearly impossible to predict when they will cease.

Santiago, a North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send Relief missionary in Puerto Rico, has been traveling throughout the island to coordinate a response through local churches.

“Most of the homes I passed, people were outside their houses not inside,” Santiago said. “There were mattresses and tents set out in yards because people were too afraid to sleep in their homes.”

A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck off the southern coast of Puerto Rico near Guánica. At least one fatality has been reported, and dozens of structures have been leveled. People have been afraid to stay inside their homes for fear of the continuing aftershocks. The North American Mission Board’s Send Relief ministry is working with pastors and churches on the island to serve survivors. Photo provided by NAMB.

An estimated 80 percent of the island was without power Tuesday evening, and 24 percent were without water due to those power outages affecting pumping systems. Service slowly began returning to customers Wednesday morning according to Reuters, and officials expect power to return to much of the island within a day or two assuming no further earthquakes strike.

Puerto Rico’s Governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency, and President Donald Trump also signed an emergency declaration.

Santiago has been working with three churches in the most affected areas on the southside of the island. Emergency resources, such as food and water, that Send Relief had stored up in event of a natural disaster, have been delivered to Iglesia Bautista La Gracia (Grace Baptist Church) in Yauco and Iglesia de la Comunidad (Community Church) in Guayanilla after dozens of residents arrived seeking help and shelter.

“The mayor of Yauco has recognized the church there as one of the town’s official shelters. So, we are looking to plan accordingly for possibly more people to arrive,” said Santiago.

Volunteers at Iglesia Bautista La Gracia (Grace Baptist Church) in Yauco, Puerto Rico prepare meals for town residents who came to the church seeking help and shelter. Food and water were delivered to the church by the North American Mission Board’s Send Relief ministry. Photo provided by NAMB.

Another church in Ponce, Iglesia Bautista Rio Chiquito (Chiquito River Baptist Church), had nearly 60 people who stayed overnight Tuesday, and Santiago has been working with pastor Gerardo Lebrón to accommodate the need for supplies there.

Felix Cabrera, NAMB’s Send City Missionary in Puerto Rico, has been connecting with pastors around the island to assess needs and encourage them as they serve their congregations and communities.

“Pray for our churches and for Jonathan Santiago because he is far away from his family, serving our churches and communities,” said Cabrera.

Send Relief had emergency supplies, such as food, water and water filters, ready to provide a rapid response in the event that another tragedy struck Puerto Rico. Volunteers loaded the resources onto a delivery truck from a warehouse and shipped them to churches that have already begun serving survivors. Send Relief is a ministry of the North American Mission Board. Photo provided by NAMB.

The 6.4 earthquake Tuesday followed a 5.8 magnitude quake that struck a little further off the coast Monday (Jan. 6). The quakes have devastated many buildings and caused at least one fatality in Ponce and destroyed dozens of homes and structures around Puerto Rico.

This earthquake comes two years after the lethal Hurricane Maria swept over the island in 2017. Maria traversed the island’s northeastern side while the earthquakes have had particularly devastating effects on the island’s more southwest side.

Guánica Mayor Santos Seda, on the island’s southern coast, told the Associated Press that for resident’s in his region of the US territory, “We are confronting a crisis worse than Hurricane Maria.”

Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published January 8, 2020