Damage to homes in Providencial Island after Hurricane Iota barreled into the Colombian Islands destroying everything on its path on Nov. 16. The Category 5 hurricane destroyed the islands and neighboring San Andrés Island, before causing damage in Central America. [Photo: ADRA Colombia]

November 25, 2020 | Medellin, Colombia | Daniela Arrieta and Inter-American Division News

Hurricane Iota barreled through the Colombian Islands of San Andrés and Providencia with 160 mile per hour winds on Nov. 16, 2020, downing powerlines and trees, and destroying streets and buildings. The Category 5 storm destroyed 98 percent of the homes in Providencia Island, according to Colombia government officials, leaving persons in need of shelter and basic necessities. One person was reported dead from the storm. Church officials reported no deaths among the membership, while dozens of Adventist families lost everything.

“The hardest hours were between 3:30 a.m. until 7 in the morning. It was very despairing, the sound and the shaking was so strong that we didn’t think we were going to survive it,” said Pastor Adrian Villamizar, leader of the Adventist Church in Providencia. He along with his family spent the storm taking cover at home. The island had never experienced such destruction before, he said.

L-R:  Jose Sepulveda, GARSA team member, and Pastors Johnathan Gallego, Magdiel Pinilla, and Jeraldine Sarmiento of the Colombian Islands Mission stand in front of the vessel that would take them Providencia to provide assistance on Nov. 20, 2020. [Photo: ADRA Colombia]

Pastor Jonathan Gallego, president of the church in the Colombian Islands Mission headquartered in San Andrés, said Iota hit San Andrés on a lesser scale but the brunt of the storm totally devastated Providencia. “Even though you see some walls standing, everything was destroyed, he said.”

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Colombia and its GARSA Rescue team arrived as quickly as possible on Nov. 18 to San Andrés to clear roads, remove debris and begin assisting displaced people, reported Jair Flórez, ADRA country director. “The team cleared 33 different areas on the island and they stayed until Nov. 23,” he said.

So far, 50 Adventist families have been affected and 3 churches completely destroyed in Providencia. In San Andrés, there are 30 families with damaged homes, and two churches were destroyed out of the eight Adventist churches which sustained damage.

Two of the church’s GARZA rescue team clear trees and debris in San Andrés Island right after Hurricane Iota destroyed the Colombian Islands on Nov. 16, 2020. [Photo: ADRA Colombia]

Even though there was no communication and difficulties reaching Providencia, the ADRA team traveled toward the island to distribute an initial 300 hygiene kits, and 40 portable gas stoves, on Nov. 20. The ADRA Colombia team and Gallego arrived on a vessel with a team of pastors and volunteers to provide assistance on Providencia.

“After traveling eight hours on a ship to Providencia, we could not disembark because we got there at night and the authorities did not allow entrance until daylight,” explained Gallego. Besides, there was no way to get to the dock, he added.  “I went ahead of the church team through a small boat to the shore and found a church member who is a counselor on the island.” He was able to ride on the member’s motorcycle to visit church members on the island that night.

“It was amazing to see the joy of so many church members who were overtaken with tears of joy when they saw us come with aid, because for days the power and cellphone towers were down,” said Gallego. “We prayed, sang and heard miraculous stories of survival. They would all say they were only alive because of the grace of God.”

ADRA Colombia volunteers stand by the relief supplies in the vessel towards assisting needy families in Providencia, Nov. 20, 2020. [Photo: ADRA Colombia]

In additional to the humanitarian aid given to members and the community in Providencia, the rescue team shared 40 bibles and hymnals.

The church and ADRA Colombia will continue assisting affected families in the days and weeks to come, church leaders said. Next week, 1,300 hygiene kits and 500 portable gas stoves are scheduled to be distributed in Providencia.

Even though ADRA Colombia has an agreement with the Delivering Shipping Line S.A.S company, shipping supplies to San Andrés is complicated because the space is limited, said Flórez. “We opened a new account at the national level to collect funds to assist the islands,” he said.

ADRA Colombia volunteers sort out supplies at the damaged Central Adventist Church in San Andrés, to assist other families on the islands and Providencia. [Photo: ADRA Colombia]

For more information on ADRA Colombia projects and initiatives and to donate to assist victims of the San Andrés and Proviencia Colombian Islands disaster, go to adracolombia.org/emergencia.

 

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