United Methodist Committee on Relief Starts Efforts in the Bahamas After Hurricane Dorian

An aerial view shows damage to a marina after Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Bahamas for several days beginning Sept.1. The Coast Guard supported the Bahamian National Emergency Management Agency and the Royal Bahamian Defense Force, who led search and rescue efforts in the Bahamas. Photo by Hunter Medley, U.S. Coast Guard, courtesy of Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater.

As Hurricane Dorian continued to threaten the U.S. east coast, United Methodists were connecting with Methodists in the Bahamas to start relief efforts.

The Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church already is fielding requests to help those being evacuated from the “unprecedented devastation” to receive basic supplies and find a place to live, says its president, the Rev. L. Carla Culmer.

But the survivors also need someone to hear their stories. “We want to see how we can counsel and listen and be there for them,” she told UM News in a Sept. 5 phone interview.

After striking the island nation on Sept. 1, Hurricane Dorian caused “vast devastation” and left 70,000 people in need of immediate humanitarian relief, says Mark Lowcock, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis called Dorian the most damaging storm ever to hit the island group, Reuters reported. Worst hit was the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas and Grand Bahama Island. As of Sept. 5, the death toll was 20.

Culmer, who also serves as the pastor at Wesley-Grants Town Church in Nassau, agreed.

“People are traumatized because the storm lasted so long,” Culmer said. “We heard about 20 deaths, but we believe there are many more deaths.”

The receding floodwaters “will reveal a lot,” she added. “And maybe some of the things it will reveal we won’t be ready for.”

Her conference’s disaster response ministry, Bahamas Methodist Habitat, is based at Camp Symonette on Eleuthera Island. The Rev. Stephanie Gottschalk, a former Volunteers in Mission coordinator for the United Methodist Western Pennsylvania Conference, has served as the organization’s executive director since January 2018.

About 80 miles south of the Abacos and Grand Bahama islands, Camp Symonette escaped major damage from Dorian. But Gottschalk pointed out that, “Everyone is going to know somebody who was affected or who was injured or died.”

She noted that the population of the Bahamas is similar to Pittsburgh and that the 70,000 or so in the Dorian-affected areas “represents about 18 percent of the population … so this is felt nationwide.”

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Source: United Methodist News