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Cuba, Haiti need help after Dennis

Cuba, Haiti need help after Dennis

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Cuba, Haiti need help after Dennis

July 14, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0331} 

An e-Review News Feature
By Tita Parham

CUBA — Guanito Methodist Church in southeastern Cuba was turned to rubble by Hurricane Dennis. The church is a sister church to Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa. Photo courtesy of Hyde Park United Methodist Church, Photo #05-212.

ORLANDO — Caribbean islands often do not fare well during a major storm, and it was no exception with Hurricane Dennis, which pounded Haiti and Cuba last weekend.

The storm caused the deaths of 38 people in Cuba and Haiti and destroyed homes and crops, according to a recent release from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). Other news sources say the number of deaths is higher and could grow as recovery progresses.

In Haiti's Cayes area UMCOR reports damage to 200 homes, with 30 completely destroyed, and 700 head of livestock killed. In the eastern part of Cuba entire communities were affected by the storm's 150-mph winds and storm surge, according to the release.

Staff members in the office of Bishop Ricardo Pereira of the Cuba Methodist Church sent an e-mail message to the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of the Florida Conference's global mission and outreach initiatives, reporting eight Methodist churches in the southeastern part of the island were destroyed. Reports from other Cuba Methodist church leaders indicate the southeastern portion, just east of the Sierra Maestra mountain chain, was hardest hit, according to Rankin.

"The news is very sad," said the Rev. Ernesto Betancourt, pastor of the San Pablo Methodist Church in Camaguey and district superintendent of the Agramontino District of the Cuba Methodist Church, in an e-mail message to the Rev. Aldo Martin, former superintendent of the former Lakeland District and a native of Cuba.

CUBA — Although Niquero Methodist Church, under construction in October 2004, survived Hurricane Dennis, it wasn't so lucky in 1998 when Hurricane Mitch destroyed the former church building. Reconstruction began in 1999. Photo by Renee Kincaid, Photo #05-211.

Betancourt reported 42 people sought emergency shelter in the sanctuary of the Methodist church in Niquero. Their homes were destroyed. 

"There is no electricity, lack of potable water. The hurricane took out just about all the house churches which were consecrated as congregations," he said, adding Niquero Methodist Church was the only Methodist church in the area that was not destroyed.

Betancourt credits its ability to weather the storm to its newer construction. The Niquero church was built with help from United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams and the support of Cuba/Florida Covenant partner churches in the Tampa area.

In the area of Pilon "few homes were left standing, the majority were destroyed," he said. 

Pereira and other pastors are working to provide food to pastors and their church members most affected, as well as salvage "what they can from the wreckage," according the Rev. Enoc Rodriguez, superintendent of the Sierra Maestra District, in an e-mail message to Renee Kincaid, secretary of the Cuba/Florida Covenant Task Force and coordinator of the South Central District's Covenant committee.

"The vast majority of our brothers and sisters who are church members in those locations (eastern areas) lost their homes and all of their belongings," he said. "Yesterday, the Bishop arrived with another shipment of food, and we went again to distribute it. Sadly, the situation is so critical that what we took was not sufficient."

Rankin said UMCOR has released a grant to the Methodist Church of Haiti and is working to provide similar assistance to the Cuba Methodist Church. "Assessments are still coming in as to the damage in Cuba, which is the most extensive in recent years," he said. 

Rankin says what both countries need now is money. "Funds that can be collected and then wired to both churches, the Cuba Methodist Church and the Iglise Methodiste d' Haiti, will arrive and be used much quicker to meet the immediate needs," he said.  "Funds spent in the local economy to purchase food and building materials help the economy. Only when in-kind goods are not accessible is sending containers done to fulfill urgent needs. This is why contributing with money is more efficient than collecting in-kind goods." 

Rodriguez hopes the word will get out to United Methodists in Florida and across the country that they need help. "I hope that this news gets to our sister churches there and to anyone else interested in assisting our brothers in surviving this sad situation," he said.

Florida Conference leaders are encouraging Florida United Methodists to assist with UMCOR's response in Cuba and Haiti by contributing to UMCOR's Hurricanes 2005 Global, Advance #982523, and designating their gift to either Cuba or Haiti. Individuals may place their contributions in church offering plates, with checks written to their local church or Florida Conference Treasurer and the Advance name, number and either Haiti or Cuba in the memo line. Contributions may also be written and sent directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068. Credit card donations may be made by calling 800-554-8583.


This article relates to Hurricane Disaster Response.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.