Chile earthquake activates church's response
Written by Gregg Brekke
February 28, 2010

A massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake hit central Chile Saturday, Feb. 27, causing damage throughout the South American country and triggering tsunami warnings in the Pacific basin. As of mid-afternoon Sunday, the death toll stood at 708 in Chile though is expected to rise. Damage was particularly heavy in Concepción. That city, Chiles second-largest metropolitan area, is located only 70 miles from the earthquake's epicenter.

The United Church of Christ and its Global Ministries partners working in Chile are responding to requests for assistance through ACT Alliance and Church World Service (CWS.) CWS has worked in Chile for many years in emergency preparedness training and assistance to the country's sizable population of Colombian émigrés. Assisting Chilean organizations Fundacion de Ayuda Social de las Iglesia Cristianas and the Methodist Church of Chile, CWS is immediately providing emergency assistance such as food, water and shelter.

The Rev. Felix Ortiz-Cotto, Global Ministries Latin America and Caribbean area executive, sent a letter shortly after the quake to partners in Chile. Addressed to the Rev. Ulises Muñoz, bishop of the Pentecostal Church of Chile; Rosario Castillo, director of EPES (Popular Education of Health); and Dora Canales, rector of the Evangelical Theological Community of Chile, the letter expressed concern and best wishes on behalf of Global Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the UCC. Ortiz-Cotto said, "We know about your witness of perseverance in hard times," and offered assurances that God will be with them.

Week of Compassion of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and One Great Hour of Sharing of the UCC are sending the initial emergency support of $2,500 each to the three partners organizations in Chile.

Global Ministries received good news regarding Elena Huegel, missionary to Chile, who was with a group of leaders of the Pentecostal Church of Chile at the Shalom Center when the earthquake struck. Speaking by radio to Bishop Munoz, she said she and the group were fine. CWS emergency staff have been in contact with colleagues on the ground in Chile, who report their people are safe.

Jose Abumohor, of Chile's national emergency center, said efforts were already under way to restore public services. "The aim is as soon as possible that we manage to reach a state of normality," he said. Foreign Minister Mariano Fernandez said Chile did not want aid offers to be "a distraction", adding: "Any aid that arrives without having been determined to be needed really helps very little." General Secretary of ACT Alliance, John Nduna, agreed. "Our members will try to supplement the effort of the government, specially in communities where our local partners have been operating for years," he said.

Donna Derr, emergency response coordinator for Church World Service, says, "Chile has a pretty strong national emergency management system in place and has dealt in the past with a number of catastrophic disasters." said Donna Derr.
 
"While there are historic areas in the country which are certainly most extremely vulnerable in events such as earthquakes, most of the newer housing has been built to earthquake mitigation standards which are now required there," added Derr. "There is also a strong regional system in place for provision of resources, such as search and rescue operational assistance between Chile and its neighbors."


The UCC's Disaster Ministries has posted a resource page where regular updates on the response to this tragedy will be posted along with links to giving opportunities through One Great Hour of Sharing.

Compiled with the assistance of CWS and ACT Alliance reports. 

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