Seventh-day Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson this week offered a message of condolence to residents of the Northeastern United States and the Caribbean in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
“Please accept our sympathy and sadness for the devastation that has taken place, especially in New Jersey, the metropolitan New York area and the Caribbean,” Wilson said. “We will continue to pray for members, churches, church organizations and the wider community that has been struck by tragedy.”
No Adventist lives have been reported lost as yet, but 152 church members and one pastor in Cuba lost their homes, according to the church's Inter-American Division. Fifteen Cuban churches were a “total loss,” IAD said, and another 93 churches suffered partial damage. An additional 352 Cuban Adventists reported some damage to their homes from the storm.
Hurricane Sandy was the largest storm by area to hit the U.S. in generations, resulting in widespread flooding, power outages and property damage. The so-called “superstorm” -- a hurricane-winter storm hybrid -- crippled the subway system in New York City and prompted the New York Stock Exchange to close for two consecutive days because of weather for the first time in more than a century.
The death toll from Sandy rose to at least 82 across eight states today, with the largest number of fatalities occuring in New York, according to media reports. New York Harbor sustained a record 14-foot storm surge during the hurricane.
Residents of the affected areas, among them Adventists, are reeling in the aftermath. It is estimated that at least 42 Adventist churches, with congregations totaling 4,500 members, are located in the most affected areas, a press release from the church’s North American Division Communication department said. Only eight of the church’s pastors had been contacted at the time of release.
Don King, president of the church’s Atlantic Union Conference, said at least three New York City-area congregations were hit hard by the storm. Among those sustaining damage, King said, are the Macedonia Seventh-day Adventist Church in Wyandanch on Long Island, and the Solid Rock Seventh-day Adventist Church in the New York City borough of Queens.
“The pews were floating,” King said of the Solid Rock church, where flood waters encroached from the Atlantic Ocean and Rockaway Beach, about a quarter of a mile away from the church.
Extensive power outages continue to complicate communication to church offices in the region, especially on Long Island, where the church’s Greater New York Conference is headquartered on the North Shore.
So far, five Adventist churches have reported that families in their congregations were affected by Sandy. Two Adventist churches in the Bronx are currently serving as shelters.
The Greater New York Conference’s Adventist Community Services (ACS) is planning to raise $100,000 for 100 Adventist families in the region that have experienced total or partial flooding damage, the press release said. Already, conference representatives have visited some of the 20 families whose homes were flooded.
“We are working with [conference] administration to collect a special offering for the following two Sabbaths in all the Greater New York Conference churches,” said Reuben Merino, ACS director for the conference.
Adventists in hard-hit New Jersey are also planning relief efforts. The New Jersey Conference’s ACS is “ready to help out wherever necessary,” said Claudia Ramirez, ACS disaster response coordinator for the region. The agency is currently collecting personal care kits, clothing and canned food items to distribute.
The church's humanitarian organization, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, is coordinating with ACS to provide electric generators, hot meals, temporary shelter and emergency kits to affected residents along the East Coast.
“It’s important for our church to be there to help people who have been affected by widespread devastation,” said Dan Jackson, president of the church’s North American Division. “We could be the Jesus that some of these people will only see and experience through these acts of kindness.”
World church headquarters, near Washington, D.C. closed for two days this week while the region weathered Sandy. Wilson was on one of the last flights to Moscow before area airports were put on lockdown. Now in the church’s Euro-Asia Division for Year-End Meetings there, Wilson expressed solidarity with those involved in rescue and cleanup.
“We are praying for you and your colleagues as you assist our church members in this difficult situation,” he said. “May God guide and encourage you and our members as you witness for Him during the challenging aftermath of the hurricane.”
Before slamming the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region, Sandy ravaged the Caribbean, killing more than 70 people and destroying homes and businesses. Much of the region remains without electricity and some roads are still impassable, due to downed trees and utility poles.
In the Bahamas, electricity was out for days, while many agricultural areas of the Dominican Republic were flooded, collapsing local bridges. Before the storm, the Dominican Republic’s government asked the local ADRA office to help warn people about Dengue fever and how to prevent it, the church's Inter American Division said. ADRA is also distributing water, food and blankets to families in the Dominican Republic, where more than 1,200 homes were completely submerged in mud, a press release from the agency said.
Adventists in northeast Jamaica reported that up to 75 percent of Adventist Church property in the island nation incurred damage, leading the Boston Adventist Church in Portland Parish to hold Sabbath worship services under a Gynep tree.
Despite setbacks in northeast Jamaica, church members there are leading a humanitarian relief effort. ADRA has distributed blankets and continues to monitor the situation, assessing damange to homes and assisting in rehabilitiation effforts, the agency said.
“Though we have been hit hard, the church is organizing assistance to persons in need of food, clothing and repairs to roofs through the community services department, service groups and ADRA in Jamaica,” said Damion Clarke, who pastors the Boston Adventist Church.