October 4, 2016—As Hurricane Matthew barrels through the Caribbean, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has been in contact with its partners in the region, who report that they have been preparing all week for the powerful storm that is projected to impact Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, as well as the southeastern United States.
Matthew, a category 4 hurricane, is expected to bring heavy rains, extreme storm surge, and winds of up to 145 miles per hour. It made landfall on southwestern Haiti on Tuesday morning, the strongest hurricane to strike the country in more than five decades.
Earlier this year, UMCOR hosted a regional disaster-response workshop in Grenada for church and humanitarian partners in the Caribbean and Central America, the fifth in a global series. The training focused on disaster preparedness, disaster response, and disaster risk reduction. Of the four countries in Matthew’s path, representatives from three of them attended the February training.
“This training should help our partners be more prepared for disasters such as this,” said the Rev. Jack Amick, senior director of UMCOR Disaster Response.
Laurie Felder, international disaster response program manager, has been in contact with some of those regional partners. She said a pastor in Jamaica reported to her his concern that Matthew’s heavy rains may produce flooding and landslides. He told her he valued UMCOR’s partnership and appreciated the February workshop, as he was now faced with the need to utilize what he’d learned.
In another call last week with a local humanitarian director working in the Bahamas, Felder discussed with him how his organization might be able to draw on its experience to be effective in a disaster response, should the need arise, and helped him prioritize basic needs in an immediate response.
In Haiti, UMCOR’s country office staff closed up the office while the storm rages. They will be monitoring and evaluating needs in Matthew’s aftermath.
Greg Forrester, who oversees UMCOR’s disaster response work in the United States, said he had contacted United Methodist disaster response coordinators in Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina, where Hurricane Matthew is likely to strike later this week.
He also spoke with UMCOR contacts in Cuba, who told him preparations were under way in Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, both of which were heavily impacted by Superstorm Sandy nearly four years ago.
“After Sandy, we invested in the rebuilding of homes and churches in both of those regions. All were built to new standards to withstand future storms as best could be done,” Forrester said.
“The established churches and, more recently, home churches have become part of the shelter system within their townships and civil defense. Latrines and water systems were added to structural improvements to add shelter capacity. New homes were built with block and concrete, and elevated where necessary to better withstand flooding and storms,” he noted.
“After the hurricane moves through the area,” Amick said, “UMCOR will again consult with our partners to explore strategies for responding to this disaster.”
The Atlantic hurricane season does not come to an end until late November. Your gift to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, and UMCOR US Disaster Response, Advance 901670, will help UMCOR respond to needs generated by Hurricane Matthew and other emergencies.