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Baptist relief workers rush to new Asian quake zone to assess latest damage

JAKARTA, Indonesia (BP)–Southern Baptist relief workers in Indonesia rushed March 29 to join a relief team already surveying damage on Nias, the island off Sumatra’s western coast devastated by a second massive earthquake in the region.

The relief team on Nias when the quake hit — visiting to assess damage from December’s tsunami — rode out the temblor’s violent shaking in a mountain town where they were spending the night. After the quake subsided, they abandoned their four-wheel-drive vehicle and traveled by motorcycles around huge cracks and chunks of cement on the roads to reach Gunung Sitoli, the devastated coastal capital. Officials estimate hundreds of bodies lie buried under collapsed buildings in the city.

The relief workers found heavy destruction there — and most of the dazed population of the city sitting or sleeping outside. Most of the buildings over two stories collapsed or sustained heavy damage, local officials say.

“Gunung Sitoli was 80 percent destroyed,” a Southern Baptist worker in Indonesia reported. “At least 350 bodies have already been found. The [final] death toll will be many times that number.”

A second Baptist team was traveling March 29 from the Indonesian mainland to meet the workers in Nias and begin relief efforts. Another team — including California Baptist disaster volunteers already in Indonesia for tsunami relief — had planned to travel by chartered aircraft to nearby Simuelue Island, also badly damaged in the quake. After being told planes were turning back because of damage to the Simuelue airport runway, they also headed for Nias.

That team includes a doctor, a firefighter, two emergency medical technicians and a disaster assessment specialist. They took rescue tools and medical supplies and expected to join the workers already in Gunung Sitoli. Four-wheel-drive vehicles were scheduled to be transported to them via ferry from the Sumatran mainland March 30.

Southern Baptist workers still hope to go to Simuelue as soon as possible. “We have talked to Save the Children, who have a team on Simuelue,” a worker said. “The damage [there] is much worse than on Dec. 26. Most of the capital city has been heavily damaged. We have not gotten any word on the town of Singkil [on the island of the same name], which is directly parallel with the center of the earthquake between Simuelue and Nias islands. Nor do we have word on the Banyak islands that were very close to the center of the earthquake.”

No Southern Baptist workers or volunteers were injured in the earthquake. Tragedy struck local believers on Nias, however. A pastor accompanying the tsunami assessment team in the mountains reached Gunung Sitoli to find his home destroyed, one of his two sons killed and another in critical condition.

“Please ask our Father to heal and protect this injured young man and his family,” the Baptist worker asked.

Southern Baptists are preparing additional volunteer teams to respond to the new crisis.

“The state Baptist convention disaster relief network is again being mobilized to furnish specialized volunteers in response to the earthquake,” reported Jim Brown, human needs coordinator for the International Mission Board. “I know the up-front groups are going to be medical until we hear more. We had already thought about doing some rebuilding of schools and houses in these islands. That’s going to stay the same, but now we’ll have more emergency response there than what we had anticipated.”

Brown emphasized that relief response to both the tsunami disaster and the latest quake’s damage will continue for months and years to come. Trained disaster relief volunteers interested in serving should contact their state convention disaster relief offices. For state-by-state contact information, visit www.namb.net/site/pp.asp?c=9qKILUOzEpH&b=238540.

By March 29, Southern Baptist churches and individuals had given more than $14.6 million for tsunami response efforts throughout the region.

The March 28 earthquake, which struck just before midnight local time, lasted about three minutes. It packed an estimated magnitude of 8.2 to 8.7 and caused widespread regional panic — particularly in devastated Banda Aceh, where the Dec. 26 quake and tsunami killed up to 200,000 people. Thousands of terrified people poured into the streets and fled into the mountains, fearing another killer tsunami.

As day dawned March 29, it became clear a major tsunami would not wash over the ravaged coast. But people remain fearful.

“As each moment passed the risk decreased, but the fear was great among those who lost so much Dec. 26,” said Eleanor Witcher of the IMB International Prayer Strategy Office. “Please pray for the millions of people living in the coastal regions of the Indian Ocean, that panic will not take over and create chaos. Pray for relief workers to powerfully sense the presence of the Holy Spirit and be able to express grace in the midst of turmoil. May they boldly speak the Gospel, recognizing the urgency of the message of Jesus.

“Please pray that the millions who began asking probing questions about God when the tsunami struck one day after Christmas will seek Him now. We are assured that when they seek Him, they will find the Savior.”

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges