More from James Neuendorf.
A community leader from an evacuated Residencial in Ponce Playa gathered a large group together and asked me to give a message and lead them in prayer, so I did a brief sermon on Psalm 46 and we prayed together, thankful that we had brought our mic and speaker for the large group, some tv station was there and recorded it, so it might have gone on tv. Throughout the process we developed a good relationship with the municipal workers and gathered information on needs that could be filled by our support team. Surprisingly, we were the only church-workers present, and the only congregation involved.
The national guard arrived at about 5:30 and they changed the plan to move people into the baseball stadium. This is probably for the best, but it meant that the new location that had been chosen, a vocational school down the road, was not the least bit prepared for conversion into a refugee center, and it was now getting dark. Many of the people had been at the stadium since early in the morning and were very tired. The national guard and some leadership from San Juan used our mic and speaker to make the announcements! The municipal leaders shared that they did not have sufficient food or water for the people that were coming, and had been making tuna burritos by hand to try to have something to give.
At this point our Mayaguez teammates, Pastor Gustavo Maita and Project Manager James Krey went into action and braved the long lines in Mayaguez and then a treacherous road to Ponce (now cleared) to get us a car load of supplies. While we waited for them we worked to keep people calm, and helped try to set up the refugee center basically from scratch. Even with the national guard, there were only about 20 workers, so we were scrambling to get things done. There was no electricity at the vocational school, so we were working from emergency lights. One example project was drying off a gymnasium floor with about a half an inch of water on it with brooms and mops so that it would be ready for people to sleep on. There were not remotely enough beds, and most people need to sleep on the floor. For some reason at this point I pulled my phone out of my pocket to find that it had completely erased itself and all my contacts and was trying to reinstall its operating system!! Fortunately, Christel still had hers and I can restore it from a backup later this week, but it was just one more element of chaos!
When the car from Mayaguez showed up there was a lot of rejoicing, because according to our plan we had purchased not only water but things like granola bars, fruit cups, wipes, diapers (adult and baby), and ensure beverages for the elderly. I spent some time with the mayor of Ponce and her staff and prayed with her. At about the same time a van showed up from San Juan with supplies from the municipality there. We worked to distribute in person the products for the elderly, because the coordinator was most concerned about “this group from Campeche (and Mayor) Elderly tower”. It is amazing that God prepared our care for them so far in advance!
We stuck around late into the night making sure people were settling down, and then went to check on a member who needed some food to eat, gave a small message and prayer for his neighbors who were outside sleeping in the parking lot and terrified, and then made it back to the house at around 11:00pm. Despite wanting to sleep as much as possible to get back to the refugee camp well rested, it has been hard to sleep because of continuing aftershocks, so I got up and wrote this update!
The plan today is to bring another haul from Mayaguez and to spend the day with the people at the refugee center. Bible study is canceled, but I am inviting the people who would have come to join us at the center to help out. It is difficult to keep everyone informed during the day so we ask that you are patient and I will try to get updates like this out as I can. It is entirely possible that the big quakes aren’t over yet, so we are not yet out of the initial response phase. Our area Facilitator Charles St. Onge is the point person for coordinating outside support if you would like to help (he is also connected to the awesome team at LCMS Disaster Response), please contact him with any questions and be patient as we identify the needs and the best ways that people can be of help. You can write to him at Charles.email@example.com.