Written by Gregg Brekke
|IMA World Health photo|
News has reached the UCC's Cleveland headquarters that Global Ministries personnel in Haiti are safe following a 7.0 magnitude earthquake Tuesday that has left an estimated 50,000 persons dead and up to three million displaced. Rescue efforts are currently underway to free those trapped in destroyed buildings.
Global Ministries partners, Patrick and Kim Bentrott, had just returned home with their infant son Solomon when the earthquake struck. They were able to descend from their third floor apartment to join others on the street who lived in the building. Though the building's first floor, stairwell and balconies collapsed, no one was harmed.
Kim Bentrott, who oversees the clinic at the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti (CONASPEH), reported grim conditions at the center. "The CONASPEH building has been flattened," she said. "All my nursing students were inside. Yesterday we helped pull bodies out of the wreckage and heard some voices within the rubble. Efforts continued frantically all day to reach them."
The Bentrotts also relayed that CONASPEH director, Patrick and Francoise Villier, are safe though one of their foster children was lost when the center collapsed. Global Ministries reported somber news Thursday that many partners and colleagues have been killed or are unaccounted for, especially at CONASPEH and the House of Hope orphanage.
Communications have not been as reliable with ecumenical partners.
"One of our staff was found alive but wounded and two are still missing," Dick Loendersloot of ACT Alliance member ICCO said in a phone conference of ACT members this evening. "People still don't know if their families are okay and are out looking for them," Nigel Timmins of Christian Aid said.
ACT reports that slum areas have been as badly affected as built-up residential areas. Looting has already started, with fears the security situation will worsen. The city is ill-equipped to handle the massive search and rescue operation required.
Also concerning ACT is the fate of people in outlying and remote areas of Port-au-Prince. One ACT member feared that coverage of the disaster in Port-au-Prince might divert attention from other pressing areas.
IMA World Health reports that its five Haitian staff and three visiting U.S. headquarters staff - President and CEO, Rick Santos; Vice President of International Programs, Sarla Chand and Program Officer, Ann Varghese - are unaccounted for. [UPDATE 1/15, 8:00am EST - Rick Santos and one colleague have been found alive.]
As relief efforts continue, Susan Sanders, minister and team leader for the UCC's Wider Church Ministries Global Sharing of Resources, encourages generosity from concerned members. "Our first task is to pray, then to donate to relief efforts already underway," she says. In response to the many who have inquired regarding volunteer opportunities, she recommends a financial contribution to One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) or volunteering in rebuilding efforts already underway in New Orleans.
"The logistics of getting into Haiti and finding an effective relief activity are very difficult," she said. "World governments, humanitarian agencies and mission groups already stationed in Haiti are responding to needs as quickly as possible - managing volunteers would only add to the complexity of their efforts."
In terms of giving, UCC constituents have contributed a record-breaking $135,000 in online donations to OGHS International Disaster Relief in the first day of the Haitian relief request. Three donations of $2,000, 14 of greater than $1,000 and 31 of greater than $500 lead the list of giving.
Funds from these and previous donations are already flowing to mission partners in Haiti including $20,000 to Church World Service for relief kits and $5,000 to Interchurch Medical Assistance who will provide medicine and supplies to area clinics. Additional distributions will be made as relief and recovery efforts continue.