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5.4 earthquake is preparedness reminder

CHINO HILLS, Calif. (BP)–Southern Baptists and others involved in disaster relief responded to a 5.4-magnitude earthquake July 29 in California with a renewed commitment to being prepared for “the big one.”

Don Hargis, disaster relief coordinator for the California Southern Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press the earthquake that shook the region from Los Angeles to San Diego yet caused limited damage and minor injuries “was not serious” compared to what is possible.

“I called my daughter who lives right there at the epicenter in Chino Hills and said, ‘Well, how was it?’ and she said, ‘It was a great ride.’ That’s California. If you’re not over 6 [on the Richter scale], you don’t even think about it,” he said.

Earthquake preparedness, Hargis said, is similar to any other kind of disaster relief planning as officials stay in close contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and, in California, with the state Office of Emergency Services.

Southern Baptist officials also communicate closely with the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army to coordinate preparations and responses. The magnitude of a disaster determines which groups will respond, Hargis said, and sometimes everyone is called into action.

The North American Mission Board provides guidelines to aid in family preparedness and church preparedness for disasters, Hargis noted. Visit www.namb.net and click on the disaster relief icon to access the resources.

“In 1994, we had the Northridge earthquake, and that was a 6.8,” Hargis said, referring to the deadly incident that toppled bridges and buildings. “That did significant damage, and we as Southern Baptists responded with 1.2 million meals and cleaned and rebuilt 25 churches.

“That was very early in our training of disaster relief preparedness,” he added. “We haven’t responded to any earthquakes here in the United States of that magnitude since then.”

Hargis said he had not received any reports of damage to churches from Tuesday’s earthquake.

“If they’ve got old pipes like they had under the streets that cracked or something that’s old that couldn’t stand 40 seconds of shaking, then it’s going to give way. And that’s what we had. It was basically 40 seconds of shaking,” he said.

Dozens of aftershocks followed, but the largest was a 3.8-magnitude, the Associated Press reported. Though the Northridge quake was the last one that caused significant damage, the last big trembler in Southern California was a 7.1 quake that struck the desert in 1999. Earlier this year, scientists predicted that California has a 99 percent chance of a 6.7-magnitude earthquake or larger in the next 30 years.

More pressing than earthquakes at this time, Hargis said, are California wildfires.

“This is one of those years that is just really bad, and what’s bad is it started early,” he said. “What’s different is it started in Northern California instead of Southern California.”

Many of the fires began as the result of lightning strikes, which were blamed for more than 1,000 fires burning simultaneously, Hargis said.

“That just makes significant problems. A lot of it was in the back country, so we weren’t too worried about it, and the firemen just let that burn but they kept it under control the best they could,” he said.

California Baptist disaster relief workers cleaned homes after fires affected residential properties, such as in the Santa Cruz area near Aptos and more recently in the Paradise region of Northern California. One community there lost 100 homes, Hargis said.

The state convention also sent a feeding unit to Chico while the nearby Paradise fire was burning because officials had requested help in serving meals to people at evacuation shelters. Hargis said the convention’s response is ongoing when it comes to wildfires, and they’re always ready.

“We are also going to Big Sur, where they lost 26 homes, and we’ll be cleaning there in about two weeks,” Hargis told BP.

The disaster relief coordinator expressed disappointment that one of the latest hot spots is an out-of-control fire burning just 12 miles outside Yosemite National Park, which is near his home. The fire has destroyed 25 homes and was only 15 percent contained Wednesday morning, AP said.

“That’s just such a beautiful personal area to me that I just hate to see it burn. After a burn, it’s just very ugly. It scars the land for a long time,” he said.

Hargis requested that Southern Baptists remember the monetary needs when they hear of disaster relief operations.

“Disaster relief only can operate according to the donations that are taken,” he said. “Whether it’s California or Texas or North Carolina, all of us operate and make our ministry possible because of donations from churches that give to either their state mission offering or directly to disaster relief.

“When Baptists hear of a disaster like this, don’t assume that the money is there to respond because a lot of times the money is not,” Hargis said. “We ask everybody to think about those people and then say, ‘I’m very blessed that it’s not my house, so I’m going to give a little bit to help with the cause.'”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. Donations may be sent to the North American Mission Board Disaster Relief Fund, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368 or made online by going to www.namb.net/dr and clicking Disaster Relief Donations.

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  • Erin Roach