• People rest in a school used as a shelter before the arrival of the Hurricane Maria Sept. 19 in Guayama, Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria has made landfall in Puerto Rico, bringing "catastrophic" 155mph winds and dangerous storm surges, after battering the Virgin Islands.

Catholic agencies prepared to help in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Rhina Guidos and Dennis Sadowski / CNS    |    09.20.2017


WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Thousands sought shelter in Puerto Rico, as Hurricane Maria, called a "monster storm" by many, hit the Caribbean island just short of a Category 5 storm Sept. 20, with winds of 155 miles per hour.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the hurricane had the potential of being the "most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century."

Via Twitter, Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, said it had staff in Tortola, in the nearby British Virgin Islands, preparing to help. The Weather Channel said up to 1 million on the island of 3.4 million were without power early Sept. 20.

Even after the storm has passed, some worry about the island's ability to recover since it already is facing billions in debt from years of financial mismanagement. A disaster modeler for Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia, told Bloomberg news that Maria could cause up to $30 billion in damage to Puerto Rico, a territory of the U. S., as well to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The local Catholic Charities agency in the U.S. Virgin Islands was assisting people who lost their homes during Hurricane Irma, which struck Sept. 6, and others who sought protection from Hurricane Maria.

Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands traditionally operates soup kitchens and shelters for homeless people on St. Croix and St. Thomas, and shelters on the islands were full as Hurricane Maria struck Sept. 19-20.

Writing in a post on the Catholic Charities USA website Sept. 19, Bernetia Akin said that her husband, Mic, former director of Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, had delivered a $50,000 check and $20,000 in gift cards from the Alexandria, Virginia-based church agency.

No immediate reports on the impact of Hurricane Maria on the three main islands of the small territory were available Sept. 20 other than that Akin reported the shelters were full before the storm hit.

In the days following Hurricane Irma's strike on St. Thomas, Catholic Charities of the Virgin Islands, increased its outreach and soup kitchen service, Akin wrote.

Limited electricity was being supplied by small generators.

"We are serving between 200 and 300 people a day," the post quoted Andrea Shillingford, the agency's executive director. The extra demand has placed a strain on the agency, she said, adding that "the only assistance we have received is from the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities USA."

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