|Global Ministries file photo|
A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck the Caribbean island of Haiti Tuesday afternoon leaving widespread devastation. No verified casualty reports are available, but the Red Cross warned that up to 3 million people have been affected by the quake.
The Voice of America reports that buildings throughout the capital of Port-au-Prince have collapsed, including the presidential palace and the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Various news sources claim widespread casualties and destruction throughout the island.
Mike Godfrey of USAID in Haiti reported seeing a "huge cloud of smoke and dust" over Port-au-Prince that appeared shortly after the initial earthquake. The cloud, caused by cement dust released in the collapse of buildings, lingered over the city for 20 minutes.
Global Ministries, the joint world mission agency of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), received word from relatives of mission personnel Kim and Patrick Bentrott that they and their son are safe.
Also confirmed safe are members of a Disciples of Christ group from Tennessee who are visiting Haitian mission partner, the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH.)
A school and children's center at CONESPEH is home to 150 Global Ministries sponsored children. Linda Lawrence, program administrator of the Child Sponsorship Program, said hundreds of the nearly 600 children at the center are still in need of sponsorship following hurricanes in 2008 and this latest disaster.
Kim Bentrott runs a medical clinic that is housed in the CONASPEH building. Lawrence visited the center in October 2008 and said "the building was in terrible shape" at that time. She doubts the building could have withstood an earthquake of this magnitude.
UCC mission partner, Church World Service, reports it is sending initial funding to its local partners in the country and is prepared to provide CWS emergency kits and blankets to people in need.
"We're continuing to assess the situation," said the agency's Emergency Response Director Donna Derr. "CWS staff here in the U.S. and in the region are attempting to contact our long-time partners in Haiti, Service Chrétien d'Haiti, Christian Aid, and the Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice (EFPJ)."
Derr said preliminary information they've received indicate that EFPJ's House of Hope day school in Port-au-Prince, which both Global Ministries and CWS support, is damaged. "Some EFPJ staff are trying to determine the well-being of the children and other staff members, but we just don't know yet. The communications are still very difficult, very spotty."
One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) funds are being rushed to Haitian mission partners, CONASPEH and House of Hope, to support their initial emergency response. As damage assessments are made and plans for relief, recovery and rehabilitation are developed, additional OGHS funds will be shared with our partners.
The UCC's Disaster Ministries has created an update page that includes a link to the OGHS International Disaster Relief fund donation site.
United Church News will provide updates to this story as more information from our partners in Haiti becomes available.