WALLINGFORD, Conn. — The Dominican Republic faced Hurricane Fiona Monday leaving many parts of the country flooded and damaged.
John Powers first visited the island in 1990 with his wife and other members of their church. Since then, he has gone back to the country to help build homes and schools, run medical clinics and educational programs as well as distribute food. He's the president and CEO of the Dominican Republic Mission Team based in Wallingford.
"It's devastating, to be honest with you," he said. "It’s heartbreaking anytime you see this sort of thing happening in the world, but these are personal friends for not just me but many many people from here."
Powers has created bonds with Dominicans who told him they were sheltering in a church they helped build as the storm went through. He said everything they owned was soaked in the country he calls a "second home."
"This sweet 80-year-old woman that we helped rebuild her house a few years ago, her roof is gone and she lives by herself and we’re not there to help," he said.
Help is on the ground in the city of Higuey, about an hour west of Punta Cana. Rafael Olivo works in the risk management department for the city and is also a volunteer for the Red Cross. He said 17 neighborhoods are flooded from Monday's storm.
'We haven’t been here by a hurricane in the last 18 years. Last time was in 2004," he said.
He said the damage to the southeastern portion of the island isn't as bad as it was in 2004 when Hurricane Jeanne went through. Help from the United States, he says, has better prepared them for managing and recovering from hurricanes.
He said they are ready to help Puerto Rico if and when they need it.
"If they by any chance are declared disaster area, and they request international assistance, they ask the Dominican government to help," he said. "We have teams prepared for that kind of thing, and we’d be able to move within 24 hours."
Olivo said the impacts of the hurricane are felt by all the Caribbean countries.
"We are really, really, really sorry when something wrong happens to any country in the Caribbean, but especially one of these because we feel like brothers," he said.
They're ready to help Puerto Rico and Powers is ready to help the Dominican Republic. They last made a visit to the island this summer. He says it's sad to see recently completed projects gone.
The next trip is planned for January. He says this will be more important as they help rebuild. They rely on their partners on the island to help coordinate what the crews will do once on the ground.
'We thought we would do this, this, and this, but now we’re going to have to take a step back and just make sure people have the most basic of needs met," he said.
Powers says he's amazed by the strength of these people who continuously get hit by storms but manage to get back to work and rebuild their communities.
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