LITITZ, Pa. — Mennonite Disaster Service regional operations coordinator Larry Stoner arrived Sept. 26 in San Juan to begin a 10-day assessment of how MDS will assist Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island.
“The airport was hot and stuffy and filled with thousands of people trying to get out,” he said. Once outside the airport, he saw “every single gas station had at least a hundred cars waiting in line. . . . The bigger issue is there is no electricity.”
Communication has been spotty, as cell towers were toppled by the storm. Electricity continues to be out for most of the country. Water and food are in short supply. People are waiting hours in lines for gasoline.
“Downed trees and tree debris are everywhere in San Juan,” Stoner said.
In the city there are damaged buildings but also a lot of buildings that survived the hurricane.
“It looks very bleak for the immediate future,” he said.
The situation worsened since Maria slammed into Puerto Rico Sept. 20. People were running low on water and food, and electricity and communication networks were spotty at best. Stoner’s satellite phone couldn’t make a connection.
“The purpose of Larry’s visit is to connect with our MDS Puerto Rico Unit and their churches to begin assessing the damage and where MDS will respond,” said MDS executive director Kevin King. “We will be rebuilding, but we just can’t say where and when until we can get there and conduct an assessment.”
Stoner expected to focus on the town of Aibonito and the surrounding area in the center of the country where the MDS Puerto Rico unit headquarters are located. He learned on Sept. 26 that the unit leader, Eileen Rolon, lost the roof on her house.
Aibonito is home to a Mennonite school and hospital. The hospital’s fourth floor has been badly damaged.
King heard from a Mennonite pastor in Hatillo that the front of their church and roof are gone.
Pastor Hector Lugo told King that “in all my years of living in Puerto Rico I have not seen worse conditions. The water supply is intermittent. No electricity.” He said he waited eight hours in line for a gallon of gasoline.
Lugo told King he was hoping to get out to visit his congregation members but couldn’t without gas.
“The roads are opening up, but there is massive destruction everywhere,” he said.
King assured Lugo that churches throughout the Anabaptist community will be holding them and their congregants up in prayer.
King hoped to be in Puerto Rico on Oct. 3, along with MDS Region 1 board chair Phil Troyer and Elizabeth Soto, a professor at Lancaster Theological Seminary who is from Puerto Rico and has family there.
MDS is accepting financial donations for the Hurricane Maria response.