UCC's Hawaii Conference responds to Big Island earthquake
In the wake of the magnitude-6.7 earthquake that left Hawaii residents rattled in the early morning hours on Oct. 15, the UCC's Hawaii Conference has responded by taking a special offering and providing assistance to churches and families affected by the quake.
The earthquake was the largest to hit the Hawaiian Islands in 23 years. As of Oct. 21, state and federal emergency agencies had compiled figures that show nearly $100 million in reported damage on the Big Island of Hawaii alone.
Kalahikiola Congregational UCC in Kohala on the Big Island of Hawaii was the church most affected by the earthquake. Images shared on national news broadcasts and in papers around the country showed the entire front of the church reduced to rubble and a gaping hole left in one side of the building between window casings.
The rear of the church, including the historic bell tower, was left standing. At press time, a complete structural assessment had yet to be conducted to ascertain the extent of the damage and formulate a plan for reconstruction.
Other UCC churches on the Big Island also suffered damage. At Imiola UCC in Waimea, one wall of the aanctuary buckled, and there was minor damage to other buildings. New and large wall cracks are evident at Hokuloa UCC in Puako and at Mokuaikaua UCC in Kailua-Kona. And at Helani UCC in Kealakekua, the rock wall fronting the road collapsed.
Kalahikiola UCC's interim minister, the Rev. George Baybrook, reported repair estimates for the church at anywhere between $800,000 and $3 million. The Federal Emergency Management Association placed the repair estimate for the building at nearly $2 million.
The congregation's 100 members are prepared to oversee repairing the church and the adjacent parsonage which sustained an additional estimated $30,000 worth of damage.
While no deaths and few injuries were reported, one member of the Helani UCC suffered a head wound during the earthquake and was taken to the hospital for treatment.
One family from the Kalahikiola UCC was forced to evacuate their home due to extensive structural damage.
The Rev. Charles Buck, Hawaii Conference Minister, commented that the overall damage was "not as bad as we originally thought. There were no major injuries and no deaths. Of all the things we were concerned about this good news is most important."
Busk said roads were blocked due to rock slides and crumbing buildings into the remote area where Kalahikiola Congregational UCC is located, which inhibited immediate assistance and delayed communications.
On Oct. 18, Buck sent a letter to all Hawaiian UCC congregations detailing the damage as well as community cleanup efforts. He noted that the UCC Disaster Response Ministries had advanced an initial $5,000 in Emergency USA solidarity grant funds from the UCC's One Great Hour of Sharing special mission offering to assist churches with repairs. Additional money is being collected through a UCC churchwide appeal through its Emergency USA fund.
The Hawaii Conference received a Conference-wide special offering on Oct. 22 to support relief efforts. UCC Disaster Response is requesting support through online contributions at ucc.org/disaster.
The UCC Cornerstone Fund also will be available to assist churches that will need loans to complete their repairs or rebuilding.
A structural engineer has also been deployed by the Hawaii Conference Foundation to assess damage. After examining the Mokuaikaua UCC, the engineer certified it safe for use on the following Sunday.
"Our churches were going to be helped through various aid agencies but we were afraid individuals would fall through the cracks," Buck said, referring to President Bush's declaration on Oct. 23 that FEMA funds would be available for recovery. "Before this declaration there was no assistance for families, many who are low and middle income. This declaration gives these residents a little more hope."
The Rev. Don Shelton, Pacific Southwest Regional Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), reported that no Disciples churches had sustained damage.
The history of the UCC in Hawaii is closely linked to the spread of Christianity on the islands, when New England Congregationalists sent missionaries to Hawaii in the mid-1800s.
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