Photo: The Mennonite school in Aibonito, Academia Menonita Betania, was extensively damaged by Hurricane Maria. Photo provided.
Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) regional operations coordinator, Larry Stoner, was booked to arrive in San Juan, Puerto Rico this past Monday afternoon.
That flight was canceled on Sunday. He rebooked for Tuesday morning.
That flight was canceled. And now he has rebooked for Wednesday morning.
But this is not an unusual story as thousands of people are attempting to come from and go to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria which devastated the island, disconnecting it from the mainland U.S. for nearly a week.
Communication has been spotty as cell towers were toppled by the storm, electricity continues to be out for most of the country, and water and food are running in short supply. People are waiting in lines for hours for gasoline.
“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,” Kevin King, MDS executive director said on Tuesday. “We will be responding, we will be rebuilding, but we just can’t say where and when until we can get there and conduct an assessment.”
King hopes to be in Puerto Rico next Tuesday along with MDS Region 1 board chair Phil Troyer. But nothing is certain about Puerto Rico except that the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Also, traveling with King and Troyer will be Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, a professor at Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Theological Seminary and former Mennonite Church USA moderator who is originally from Puerto Rico and has family there.
When in Puerto Rico, Stoner is expected to quickly focus on the town of Aibonito and the surrounding area in the center of the country where the MDS PR Unit headquarters are located. He learned on Tuesday that the unit leader, Eileen Rolon, lost the roof on her house.
It is also the area where there is a Mennonite school and hospital. Stoner learned from a contact in San Juan who finally reached him by phone Monday and Tuesday morning that the fourth floor of the hospital in Aibonito has been badly damaged.
King heard from a Mennonite pastor in Hatillo, PR 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 also said he waited in line for eight hours for a gallon of gasoline.
Lugo told King that he was hoping to get out to visit his congregation members, but can’t without gas. “The roads are opening up but there is massive destruction everywhere,” he said to King.
King assured Lugo that churches throughout the Anabaptist community will be holding them and their congregants up in prayer.