(PNS) The Rev. Edwin González-Castillo, Stated Clerk of the San Juan Presbytery in Puerto Rico, says the biggest challenge he is facing in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria is communications. Attempting to reach and coordinate relief efforts across the island has been hampered by downed communication lines outside of San Juan, infrastructure damage due to flooding and ongoing concerns about fuel shortages.
Although the human cost of the huge Category 4 storm remains relatively low with 16 people confirmed dead, San Juan’s mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told news outlets that without immediate attention the island was facing “a humanitarian crisis.” The storm made landfall with 155 mph sustained winds – nearly Category 5 – as it raked a path across the 3.4 million-inhabitant island, moving slowly as it passed over Puerto Rico from the southeast.
More than 20 inches of rain fell as Maria hovered over the island, washing away roads, bridges and damaging other infrastructure such as communications towers, electrical lines and dams. More than 70,000 people were told to evacuate in towns along the Guajataca River as floodgates were opened when an imminent breech of the swollen Guajataca Dam was predicted on Saturday.
“As of yesterday, I believe only 30 percent of households had running water,” González-Castillo said. “There are still some areas we don’t have communication with. The streets are really bad and they don’t have access through the roads, they are being handled by helicopter. Some bridges collapsed because of the flooding.”
He has contacted 13 of the 15 pastors in the San Juan Presbytery via a WhatsApp group he created before the storm. One other pastor was located and confirmed alive and well by his son on Facebook. The other, the pastor in the west San Juan suburb of Carolina, has not been reached.
González-Castillo is now back in San Juan after riding out the storm Aguadilla, in the northwest of the island, with family. His communication efforts continue today as he tries to reach retired pastors and those who aren’t serving in a congregational setting.