From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Church agencies work to help hard-hit Dominican Republic

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 06 Oct 1998 14:17:33

Church agencies work to help hard-hit Dominican Republic  

Oct. 6, 1998        Contact: Linda Bloom*(212)870-3803*New York

By George Piper*  

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (UMNS) -- As faith-based disaster response
organizations get assessment reports from the Dominican Republic
following Hurricane Georges, the story from the already poor island
country becomes increasingly bleak.   

Widespread flooding, homelessness and the disappearance of entire towns
may add to the death toll and losses already being reported. And with a
government that is already feeling its citizens' mistrust, Dominican
churches are likely to play a major role in distributing supplies and
spearheading recovery in this country of 8 million people.   

Gordon Knuckey, a field officer for the United Methodist Committee on
Relief (UMCOR) and one of the first stateside disaster relief  members
to visit the Dominican, summed up the situation in one word:

"To those of us in the disaster business, that has a very distinct
meaning. That's the worst it gets," he said, after his return from
touring both the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. "You can't walk 10
feet (in the Dominican Republic) and not encounter major destruction."

Hurricane Georges hit the Dominican Republic on Sept. 22, bringing high
winds and rain that obliterated small wooden houses inhabited by many
poor residents and washed away whole communities.    

Official reports put the toll at 279 dead and another 100,000 to 185,000
homeless. The deaths reported so far represent those accounted for in
official shelters. Knuckey guesses the final figure might climb into the

He flew into Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, on Sept. 30 with a
building contractor and a translator to talk with clergy and local
citizens. The airport was still so badly damaged that the pilot landed
with the aid of hand signals on the ground. Road closures and lack of
telephone service limited travel and communication, although Knuckey
received reports from virtually the entire island.    

UMCOR is working with the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana (the Dominican
Evangelical Churches, or IED), an organization of United Methodist,
Presbyterian and Moravian churches.    The group has established 15
clinics where residents can go for medical aid. The next priority is
getting building materials for people's homes. UMCOR has provided some
grant money.

Getting supplies to the island is the first challenge facing relief
groups. Once those are received, a program of equitable distribution is
needed, and that's a role Knuckey believes can be fulfilled by   church
groups that have credibility among the people.    

One church group expected to provide direct relief, the Servicio Social
de Iglesias Dominicanas (Social Services of Dominican Churches or SSID),
has a working agreement with the Dominican  government that any supplies
the organization receives are not taxed or seized by bureaucratic

In San Pedro de Macoris, the Moravian Church is using the limited
resources of its bank account to purchase food. Its youth group, dubbed
the Love Brigade, is cooking and delivering food to citizens. 

Church officials in the community of 185,000 estimate 95  percent of
homes were destroyed or sustained major damage. The church, too, was
destroyed, and officials gave away any salvageable  building material.

The Rev. Nicolas Deoleo Felix, from the southern village of Tamayo, told
Knuckey how his community of 20,000 was wiped out. The pastor escaped in
the night with his wife and children, but he still cannot account for
extended family, which he feared dead. Another southern town,
Jaquimeyes, population 10,000, was left below water after the road
formed a dike against the rising floodwaters.    

In an area of the San Juan Province known as the Mesopotamian Region, 15
small communities flooded and are simply gone. Church officials estimate
about 1,000 households -- each averaging around six people -- were
affected there.    

"In this situation, refugees are scattered all over, and whole entire
towns have disappeared," Knuckey said. "Right now, the government is
dropping food to some of these folks simply because they just can't get

"People are sheltering just about anywhere they can find a structure to
hide in," Knuckey said. "There does not seem to be a consistent effort
to deliver food and potable water."  

Knuckey likened the images of the Dominican Republic to Homestead, Fla.,
after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. 

"The difference is this is much worse because they simply don't have the
resources that we as a nation have," he said.    

The poor communications and infrastructure, though, have not halted
faith-based relief efforts to the beleaguered country. The National
Council of Churches' relief agency, Church World Service, has issued a
second $50,000 emergency appeal in response to Hurricane Georges, and
already has sent $15,000 to SSID for immediate relief needs, including
blankets and construction materials. This assistance will be included as
part of a broader appeal by Action by Churches Together.   

# # #   

*This story was provided by Disaster News Network

United Methodist News Service
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