Teams trained by the aid organization Baptist Global Response moved into hurricane-ravaged areas of Cuba as soon as the storm ended, said Patrick Melancon, BGR's managing director of disaster response.
"Initial reports from the storm zone indicate most of the damage is to homes, infrastructure and agriculture," Melancon said. "Many organizations are responding to this disaster. BGR, in conjunction with other teams on the ground, is supplying funds for the initial needs of drinking water and food at feeding centers."
Baptist Global Response released $5,000 in emergency funds over the weekend and anticipates providing another $35,000 for relief efforts within a few days, said David Brown, who with his wife Jo directs BGR work in the Americas. Brown said he has been receiving "a deluge of emails" from Cuba with reports of damage and requests for assistance as well as from stateside partners who have begun formulating plans to respond.
One of those e-mails came late Oct. 26 from Baptist pastor Victor Manuel Quesada in eastern Cuba, who was part of an assessment team that headed into one of the worst-hit areas, the city of Santiago.
"More than 300,000 houses and other facilities have been partially or totally destroyed in the city. Every street in most of the main cities and towns in the province are blockaded by trees, junk and demolished materials," Quesada wrote. "Food and potable water are a big, growing problem. The situation is indescribable. Families are without homes; electric, hydraulic, and communication are out of service. Most of the churches in the city have been deeply affected. Many of our brothers lost everything; some of them have passed away."
"State conventions and churches in the U.S. have been seeking information via BGR concerning prayer support, volunteer opportunities and financial support to the crisis," Brown said. "I expect that the needs in Cuba and Jamaica will be overwhelming for local Baptists to respond."
The Southern Baptist response coordinated through Baptist Global Response will be based on requests received from on-the-the ground personnel trained by BGR in international disaster response, Melancon added.
"Those personnel are trained to assess in the key life-saving sectors -- water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion; food security and nutrition; shelter, settlement and non-food items; and health action," Melancon said. "Our response to this disaster will be evidence-based and assessment-driven. This methodology prevents the duplication of efforts and targeted assistance to the most needy in the communities we seek to serve."
Melancon noted that areas in eastern Cuba struck by the high winds were not prepared for the storm because they do not lie along the usual tracks of hurricanes in the region.
Southern Baptists are able to respond to disasters because of the generous support of individuals, churches and groups, Melancon added. Any identified need for volunteers will be coordinated through the disaster relief offices of Southern Baptist state conventions.
Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, on the Web at www.gobgr.org.
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