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Puerto Rico Hurricane Response Ends

April 26, 2023
Jose and his family stand with World Renew disaster response volunteers.
Jose and his family stand with World Renew disaster response volunteers.
Photo: World Renew

After five and a half years, including delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, World Renew has wrapped up its response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Maria was a category 5 hurricane that made landfall in late September 2017. Coming just two weeks after Hurricane Irma, whose center had passed within 30 miles of Puerto Rico and had weakened the island’s buildings and infrastructure with category 5 wind and rain, Hurricane Maria devastated several Caribbean countries.

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory. Most of the island’s population suffered some sort of flooding or damage to property as a result of Hurricane Maria. The storm also caused electrical blackouts for several months. Altogether it is estimated that Maria caused more than $94 billion in damage across the island.

World Renew sends teams of Disaster Response Services (DRS) volunteers to respond to natural disasters when they affect sites in the United States and Canada. Puerto Rico, however, posed unique challenges. Power outages, a lack of existing relationships with local partners, and a shortage of facilities available to host volunteer groups delayed World Renew’s response to the storm for several months. Later, the COVID-19 pandemic caused additional complications.

“World Renew DRS was able to begin responding to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2018,” said Bill Kuyvenhoven. He and his wife, Corry, served as project managers for the site. “After a few repairs in the east, we decided to partner with a local organization, called Stronger than Maria, on the western part of the island. While we were working hard to serve God and repair homes, COVID-19 came and shut down our site in a day. It was a shutdown that lasted two and a half years.”

Volunteers were finally able to return to the site in late 2022, said Kuyvenhoven. Combined with the work completed before the pandemic, World Renew was able to help a total of 50 families repair or rebuild their homes.

When World Renew volunteers went to assess damages at Jose’s home in late 2022, for example, they noted that the floor was rotting as a result of the flooding from Hurricane Maria. The volunteers replaced the damaged floor with new flooring and added a new wall to give the family two separate bedrooms.

In exchange, families such as Jose’s provided World Renew volunteers with generous hospitality and a warm welcome.

“We often enjoyed local cuisine for lunch provided by the homeowners, and we experienced the local culture on weekends,” said Corry Kuyvenhoven. “Although the language barrier made communication difficult between volunteers and homeowners, a smile, a hug, or a handshake mean the same thing to the human heart in any language.”

Altogether, 185 volunteers from the United States and Canada gave 20,670 hours of their time to assist hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico.

"Serving our God in Puerto Rico will always be a highlight in our World Renew years,” said the Kuyvenhovens. “We thank him for the opportunity to have served here."