Nicaragua: Hurricane Felix Claims Five
Adventist Lives, Church Assesses Damage
BY LIBNA STEVENS, Inter-America Division
eventh-day Adventist leaders in Nicaragua remain concerned about the status of thousands of church members affected by Hurricane Felix, the category 5 storm which hit the Central American country early on September 4. Felix, with its high winds and torrential rain, swept away entire communities in the northern region, where more than 5,000 members reside, some 600 kilometers from the capital city of Managua. The death toll is surpassing the three-digit mark, and so far five church members are reported dead. However, some members are still unaccounted for in the Miskito Keys and surrounding areas that suffered Felix's fiercest winds, clocked at 160-mph. These areas are accessible only by aircraft.
“We still haven’t been able to ensure the condition of our members who have survived the hurricane,” said Juan Angel Guevara, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nicaragua, during a telephone conversation. “The total infrastructure of the church has been affected in the north Atlantic region.”
Guevara, who has been able to communicate only via radio with a few of the communities in the affected regions, said that two churches supported by wooden stilts were destroyed and dozens more buildings sustained extensive damage.
ADRA VOLUNTEERS IN FLIGHT: Three members of ADRA's disaster assistance team are shown en route to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, in a military helicopter, following the Sept. 4 landfall of Hurricane Felix. [Photo: ADRA Nicaragua]
“We have 45 churches in the communities of Sandibay, Francia Sirpi, Puerto Cabezas, and Miskito islands," Guevara said. "Most have extensive damage, and we are going by the government’s official survey of the unaccessible communities, that most of those churches have been destroyed.”
Church leaders and members are understandably very concerned for their fellow citizens, in the swampy and forested communities bordering Honduras where low income families reside.
“There are so many rivers overflowing and that concerns us even more now," said Guevara. "It gets flooded every year when winter hits the area, and this hurricane was so intense."
Guevara said there is a radio station and clinic operated by the church that he has not yet been able to contact.
The Adventist elementary and secondary school in Puerto Cabezas, where more than 700 people from the area sought shelter, lost the roofs to each of its classrooms.
“People taking shelter there had to move around to take shelter as roofs kept blowing off on the school’s campus,” said Guevara.
The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Nicaragua and its Volunteer Rescue and Emergency response team (VRED) have been able to deliver over 1,000 first aid kits to the areas first surveyed by Nicaragua’s Civil Defense Army, according to ADRA officials in Nicaragua. In addition, food and tarps are being delivered.
“We have been able to deliver medicines, food and tarps to more than 16,200 people and we hope more will be delivered as more funds are available,” says Plinio Vergara, ADRA Nicaragua director. “Our greatest challenge is that we are working as fast as we can while depending on the limited number of choppers available for the delivering of supplies in the flooded tropical jungle-ridden region, but we are moving quickly.”
More distributions are scheduled in the coming days to aid the population where more than 50,000 were affected.
“We have 11 of our ADRA and VRED team stationed in the Adventist school in Puerto Cabezas delivering the goods right now and submitting first aid to victims they come across” says David Castillo, emergency official of ADRA Nicaragua, who traveled on survey choppers days after the hurricane hit. “There are only three choppers available from Puerto Cabezas to make these distributions, but we are working as fast as we able to.”
ADRA Nicaragua and VRED have an agreement with the highest level of the Civil Defense and the Nicaraguan Army to assist with search and rescue, needs assessment and distribution of supplies, Castillo added.
Wally Amundson, ADRA director for Inter-America, says ADRA Nicaragua has taken an important initiative during the recent months. “This timely assistance to the hurricane victims is due in large part to the advance planning and emergency response training over the past two years by the ADRA Nicaragua leadership,” he said.
ADRA'S HELPING HAND: An ADRA disaster worker helps a youngster in Puero Cabezas, Nicaragua, in the wake of Hurricane Felix. Five Seventh-day Adventist church members are among the dead in the region. [Photo: ADRA Nicaragua]
According to Amundson, funds have already been released to help the survivors of Hurricane Felix. “The [Inter-American] Division has matched funds that ADRA International has donated to support the relief efforts along with the local funds kept on reserve when the need arises,” Amundson said.
In addition, ADRA Spain has committed to helping ADRA Nicaragua in the rebuilding affected communities as soon as it moves to the next phase, according to Vergara.
While the church still is not done assessing damages to their churches and accounting for their members, church leaders and members throughout the unaffected areas of Nicaragua are actively collecting donations in their local churches to benefit their countrymen victimized by Felix, according to Guevara. In the capital city of Managua, the church has organized a donation center at the church headquarters office through appeals to the public via radio, and has teamed up with the Red Cross where dozens of have participated in a blood drive.
“Truckloads are coming in from our Adventist churches throughout our country, our offices are packed with food, clothing and people are coming in to make donations,” says Guevara. “We are in the process of sorting out all the clothes and package the food for distribution.”
“We have our church members, master guides and pathfinders all working together, colleting money so we can buy food and aid the victims,” said Guevara.
For now, Guevara asks Seventh-day Adventists all around the world to pray for Hurricane Felix’s victims in Nicaragua.
“We know that when God’s people pray, God can make miracles,” he said. “It will take time until we are able to rebuild our churches, members’ homes, schools and communities, but our pressing need is to ensure all of our members are alive, safe and are able to meet for worship every week, and provide assistance to every victim we can.”
After Hurricane Felix ransacked Nicaragua, it made its way to Honduras where it was downgraded to category one hurricane and left communities flooded. The church in Honduras is still assessing the damages to members and churches.
Nestled in Central America and bordered by Honduras and Costa Rica, Nicaragua has more than 87,000 Seventh-day Adventists and 186 organized churches.
To help the survivors of Hurricane Felix in Nicaragua, donate online at www.adra.org