Man helps rebuild Jamaica

Man helps rebuild Jamaica
Ky. missionary endured Hurricane Dean

The day after the storm, the weather was back to normal – hot, muggy, with a flare-up thundershower in the afternoon.

The hardware stores had reopened, with higher prices, and gas was available, too. A few of the residents had turned to looting to get what they needed.

In the more affluent areas, roofs were pulled from homes. The damage wasn’t too bad.

But in the poorer areas of Jamaica that Hurricane Dean slammed into last Monday, houses were destroyed. Shacks made of plywood and scrap metal were shredded and scattered. Local authorities reported two people were dead. Countless more needed supplies.

They still do, says Brian Zeschke, a 30-year-old missionary from Dayton, Ky. Zeschke was there last week when Dean rolled over the island, and he helped those affected by the storm. He is planning to go back Sept. 19-25 to help rebuild homes.

“All (homes) were damaged, if not destroyed,” Zeschke wrote in an e-mail from Old Harbour, Jamaica. “But not only were their homes destroyed but they lost absolutely everything they have, i.e.: clothes and any ‘furniture’ they may have had. The trip is planned for the end of September, which gives us time to gather people and resources to help.”

Zeschke traveled to the area with a missionary group. They settled in Old Harbour, a town of 20,000 about an hour west of Kingston, along the south coast. There, the unemployment rate hovers around 50 percent and the teen pregnancy rates are the highest in the Caribbean, according to Zeschke.

“You cannot walk anywhere in Old Harbour without seeing a young girl with at least one child,” Zeschke said.

Zeschke was scheduled to leave Jamaica the day before the storm, but his flight was canceled due to the strong winds. In a way, he said, he was glad to stay and wait it out.

“I actually wanted to be here for the hurricane,” he said. “I know I’m crazy and all, but I thought it’d be a good experience.”

For Zeschke, Jamaica is like a second home.

The day before Dean arrived, he spent time gathering supplies with others in his group. They fortified their cement-and-steel home against the winds.

“We have plenty of food and probably 60 gallons of drinking water,” he said. “Plus we have a 650-gallon tank on top of the house that can be used to drink if needed.”

While they waited, the Weather Channel predicted Dean was following an “eerily reminiscent” path of Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

“In Jamaica, Gilbert is the hurricane all other hurricanes are compared to,” Zeschke said. “Some of the island’s infrastructure is actually still rebuilding from Gilbert almost 20 years later. On top of that, Gilbert hit Jamaica as only a Category 3 hurricane.”

Dean became a strong Category 4, with 150 mph sustained winds, when it hit Jamaica. Zeschke’s house withstood the storm, but others had no chance.

The day after, Tuesday, the group drove around the town, surveying damage.

“Around some of the more affluent areas (there) are lots of trees down, lots of utility poles down, and quite a bit of roof damage,” Zeschke said. “Of course even for these people it’s fairly easy to get things fixed up once the hardware stores reopen. For the poorer of the Jamaicans, things aren’t so well.”

Damage littered the town, along with tree limbs and other debris.

“Surprisingly the water has been turned back on periodically but the power has been out since about 2 p.m. Sunday,” Zeschke said. “We’re using a generator occasionally just to keep food cold in the fridge and get out e-mails to the states. Also surprising was that cell phone service remained on the entire time here in Kingston.”

This weekend, Zeschke was scheduled to return home to Dayton. He doesn’t regret staying, and he’s ready to go back.

“I have been doing volunteer mission work (in Jamaica) for 15 years and I love the people and the land,” he said. “I am in the process of going into full-time mission work in Jamaica and I plan on moving here within two years. So I wanted to be here with my ‘family’ during the storm.”

His last days were spent helping the residents – and planning to help them more in the future.

“We have built several of these houses before and they have withstood Hurricane Ivan and now Dean,” he said. “They last and are efficient for those who have nothing.”