Rantoul minister going through second round of hurricane heartache

Rantoul minister going through second round of hurricane heartache

RANTOUL — Nelson Cuevas went through Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico. Now in Rantoul, Cuevas can only wait for word from his wife and friends following Hurricane Maria's vicious onslaught in that territory.

Cuevas, who founded and directs the Christian-based Cultivadores Latino Center in Rantoul, also heads a center in Puerto Rico that ministers to the homeless.

This week, as Maria slammed the U.S. commonwealth, about 60 natives of Puerto Rico gathered at the Rantoul center for prayer and emotional support, said Cuevas, who estimates that more than 300 Puerto Ricans reside in the Rantoul area.

"Definitely, we are concerned," Cuevas said Thursday. "My wife (Esther Alejandro) is there, and we have not heard from them for like two days. The whole island is without power."

Cuevas was in Puerto Rico, visiting the homeless ministry site, when Irma hit.

"It was a very scary moment. High winds, a lot of rain, floods," he said.

He prepared their home for the hurricane by boarding up windows and placing sandbags around it to prevent flooding. The home was unscathed.

It wasn't his first hurricane. He was in Florida when Hugo came through in 1989, but he said Irma was worse.

"Irma, the wind was stronger. The rain was more effective," the minister said. "Totally different experience. Of course, I was much younger, so I thought I was Superman. I stood and watched Hugo."

He said Hurricane Maria has been even worse than Irma, with the town his wife is in getting "at least four feet of water."

He wishes he was in Puerto Rico and plans to head there as soon as he can. When that will happen remains TBD.

"The airports are closed until further notice as far as I have heard," Cuevas said. "I heard from a friend of mine who is military. They flew him out of the island immediately. The runways were also damaged, so there is no real in and out as we speak.

"It's not easy not knowing. We never thought we were going to get hit this hard. Even with Puerto Rico being a U.S. territory and well-sustained structurally, this hurricane made a very horrible impact."

As a result of the devastation, Cuevas and his wife have been reassigned by the Cultivadores board of directors to spend the bulk of their ministry time in Rantoul for at least the immediate future.

The Rantoul center has also been hosting a number of Mexicans coming for prayer and emotional support following this month's two earthquakes in that country.

"These situations in Mexico and Puerto Rico have really drawn in more Spanish people for church and prayer for more emotional comfort," Cuevas said.

Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.