Caribbean disaster response update

Published: 26 Oct 2017

Caribbean disaster response update

Our Disaster Response Team is always on standby ready to respond anywhere a small plane can bring help. Having recently returned from the Caribbean, John Woodberry shares how MAF and Samaritans Purse have been working together to bring relief to struggling communities. 

Its two months after the two hurricanes hit and you’ve just come back from the Caribbean – how are you feeling? 

I’m feeling good and pleased at what we were able to accomplish! MAF was able to partner with Samaritan’s Purse and response in a substantial way to devastated islands in the Caribbean after hurricanes Irma and Maria. After a month of disaster response work I was very tired. But that is why we have a team… so we can relieve each other and continue the work.

What was it like when you first arrived?   

The first place I arrived at was St. Maarten. What struck me was the scale of the disaster and need… just the devastation around the airport, sand from the nearby beach all over the tarmac. Flipped aircraft. What used to be nice hotels destroyed. 

Hurricane Irma caused catastrophic damage in Barbuda, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla, and the Virgin Islands.

What’s the situation there now?  

It has now transitioned to the long-term rebuilding of devastated communities. There’s tons of work to do - getting water back into homes, building long-term roofs to replace the temporary tarps, rebuilding homes, hospitals, and other services. Rebuilding infrastructure.

What are the long-term implications of the hurricanes that you could see? 

The reality is, communities and people draw together and work together in a disaster and some of that remains as things improve.

But, infrastructure is destroyed, and economies are affected, and all that takes a long time to return to normal, possibly even years. 

The need for God remains even as physical lives are rebuilt. Long-term transformation doesn’t happen without God’s involvement in the hearts of those affected.

Hurricane Maria hit Dominica on 18 September causing the worst natural disaster in the island's history. Two days later Maria claimed 31 lives and caused a major humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.

You have been involved in many different disaster response situations - how has this been this different from other disasters?  

Our team was scattered in different locations, and we ended up dealing with two major hurricanes, as Maria hit while we were there to respond to Hurricane Irma. 

Also, it was our first time working with Samaritan’s Purse in such a major way, supporting and helping facilitate flight operations.

In a disaster, it’s very chaotic.  A lot of care and planning goes into distribution so that aid gets to the people who need it. Samaritan’s Purse (SP) has a lot of experience doing this.

The group delivered around 8,000 hygiene kits, 17,000 blankets, and more than 50,000 litres of clean water.

What’s in a hygiene kit and why is it needed?

Soap, toothpaste, tooth brush, wash cloth, laundry detergent, feminine hygiene products, etc. People lose everything in a disaster, even these little things.

We rely on our partners as much as they rely on us - can you explain how good relationships and strong partnership helped MAF achieve more?

Our pre-existing good relationships with SP allowed us to have a better and quicker response than either group could have had on their own. MAF provided logistic and aircraft coordination support, along with a Cessna 206 from Suriname that was critical in the initial assessment flying and getting people in and out of the islands. While SP provided a DC3 and DC8 that focused on cargo transport or larger loads.

How long will MAF/Samaritan’s Purse continue its response?  

The work is now transitioning to the rebuilding phase. MAF will likely phase out our role over the next few weeks while Samaritan’s Purse continues on with the rebuilding, possibly for years.

How can people pray?

  • Pray for the teams that continue to serve, respond, and help rebuild. They work from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and are very tired. Pray for fortitude and grace.
  • Pray for the many people in the Caribbean who have lost so much.
  • Pray for protection from any new storms this season.
  • Pray that through these crisis, many will turn to God and put their trust in him. Pray for true salvation decisions.