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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

FEMA has provided $498 million in reconstruction aid for houses of worship

José Baquero, federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico

By The Star Staff

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Sunday that it was allocating $498 million to repair places of worship damaged by Hurricane Maria.

After the impact of Maria, hundreds of churches and houses of worship opened their doors to lend a hand in their communities. People went to them for food, basic supplies, and even assistance in picking up debris and replacing tin roofs that did not withstand the wind. Amid the large amount of fallen vegetation and the need for provisions, “the churches were a beacon to encourage people to keep going.” That is how Pastor Dalma Pérez of the Iglesia Cristiana Discípulos de Cristo Río Lajas in Toa Alta described her experience of the first days after the storm hit.

Today, more than 800 houses of worship like that one have funding allocations to repair their damage or have already completed their construction work with the help of the almost $500 million from FEMA, most of it earmarked for permanent reconstruction work. The projects include not only spaces that were damaged by Maria, but also by the 2020 earthquakes. The reconstruction funds will help the emblematic entities in every community on the island to continue their social relief work.

“It’s important to recognize the significant number of facilities that will be rebuilt and preserved through these funds, some of which have a rich cultural history that dates back hundreds of years,” Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator José Baquero said. “These obligations will help ensure residents can continue to visit their faith-based venues and that they are safe for the congregations who visit them.”

Víctor Manuel Ramos, pastor of the Discípulos de Cristo church in Los Llanos sector, Barrio Ortiz in Toa Alta, said one of the great benefits of the FEMA funds is that the church can rest assured that it has a fund to repair what was damaged, so they can use more resources to help the community.

“That’s the way we have done it,” he said. “As we have finished the repair of the building, now the resources are used to help the community, such as for basketball tournaments for children and a social club for the elderly.”

This church received an obligation of over $55,000 to repair the air conditioners, roof and acoustic ceiling tiles, and to replace spotlights, fences and lamps. Of those funds, nearly $3,000 went to mitigation measures to prevent damage in future disasters, such as an anchoring system for air conditioning units.

Other houses of worship received obligations to repair walls, windows and doors, administrative offices, kitchens and other components, such as the Movimiento de Iglesias Unión Cristiana Misionera located at Barrio Sabana Hoyos in Vega Alta, which received funding for nearly $91,200, and Iglesia Metodista de Puerto Rico, with an allocation of $96,000 for two of their churches located in San Juan and Caguas.

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