Rapid Response to Hurricanes Eta and Iota

Above photo: Hurricane Flooding (Inglehart)

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, it was decided that a planned pro-active approach to disaster response was needed across the Latin America and Caribbean Region. The Mercy Center, an institute of Concordia the Reformer Seminary, worked with LCMS Disaster Response to prepare three disaster response trainer-pastors, who would assist church workers and laity in each country to create a structure and plan for delivering appropriate coordinated aid and comfort to victims in the event of a disaster.

Rev. Gustavo Maita is a missionary pastor in Puerto Rico who serves as Disaster Response Coordinator for that country. He has been trained by LCMS Disaster Response to provide disaster response training for church leaders and laity. (Photo:Heidorn)

This training proved immensely helpful in January of 2020 when earthquakes struck Puerto Rico. Our missionary team was among the very first to respond to the need. Now Lutheran churches in Central America have been responding similarly to the devastation left by recent hurricanes that swept across the area leaving destruction in their wake.

The countries of Belize, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama have been hardest hit by back-to-back hurricanes. Eta made landfall as a category 4 hurricane in Nicaragua on November 3rd, then lingered for two days over Central America before intensifying and moving on to Cuba, where flooding was already a growing problem. Just two weeks later, Category 5 Hurricane Iota slammed the same area after weakening just slightly to a Category 4. The combined death tolls in Central America for the two storms was 232, with dozens still missing.

Much of Guatemala saw massive flooding

Ongoing heavy rains and mudslides have resulted in deaths, destroyed homes, businesses, crops, and destroyed or damaged infrastructure. Washed out bridges and roads, and utility outages have severely limited or cut off food and water supply lines. Skyrocketing prices make limited supplies inaccessible to many people, especially in impoverished areas.

Many families from San Francisco Vuelta Grande are still in shelters or in the homes of relatives.
A bridge was washed out, making it difficult to reach the village with supplies.

In Gualan, the worst-hit area of Guatemala, heavy flooding resulted in severe damage or destruction of five homes, affecting some 15 church members. Two of those homes were a total loss, so those families have been living with Pastor Luis Jacinto. Immediately following the hurricanes, Luis Mazariegos, the disaster response coordinator in Guatemala, reached out to LCMS Disaster Response and Lutheran Hour Ministries (CPTLN) for assistance.

Inside a home in the Caserío Los Quíneles area

LCMS Disaster Response wasted no time, meeting with missionaries and local pastors to secure assistance for those affected by the storms. The team in Guatemala met and wrote up a grant request on a Thursday evening for $2000 for each of five congregations in eastern Guatemala. The grant request totaling $10,000 was in the hands of Disaster Response at 8:00 A.M. the very next day, and by that afternoon, the approvals and signatures were secured. Grant funds were wired and available the following Monday for the local churches to begin assisting families with water, food, hygiene produces, beds, stoves and other necessities.

Families from the Caserío Los Quíneles area are in a shelter
because their houses cannot be inhabited

Families in Puerto Barrios

CPTLN was also extremely quick with their provision of 300 Bibles and brochures for the congregations to share as they assisted hurricane victims.

Ideally, future disasters will be met with this same organization and efficiency, thanks to the ongoing training, preparation and cooperation between the Lutheran churches in our various countries, our missionaries on the ground, CPTLN and LCMS Disaster Response.

Families in Gualan

Other countries affected by these back-to-back hurricanes have submitted requests for assistance, which are being processed at this time. More information will be shared as it becomes available. Please pray for the Lutheran churches in Belize, Cuba, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama as they rebuild and recover from the storms.

Jana Inglehart

Jana Inglehart serves the Lord through The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) as the Regional Communication Specialist for the Latin America and Caribbean region, based in the Dominican Republic.