Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers are on the ground in Chile, partnering with Chilean Baptists to address critical needs in two areas hit hard by the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the country February 27.
A six-member team from the South Carolina Baptist Convention landed in Santiago early in March and a second team arrived a few days later. Two teams from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention also arrived in mid March.
The teams, which specialize in mass feeding operations, planned to set up kitchens capable of producing as many as one thousand meals daily.
The South Carolina team began by purchasing equipment for two kitchens, using money provided by Southern Baptist hunger and relief funds, said Charles Clark, an International Mission Board missionary who serves as strategy leader for the part of South America that includes Chile.
The South Carolina and Texas feeding teams will train Chilean Baptist partners to run the kitchens and distribute meals themselves. The approach reflects an overall strategy of assisting Chilean Baptists as they develop and fine-tune their own disaster response mechanisms.
South Carolina Baptists also were preparing to send a planeload of medical equipment, said Cliff Satterwhite, director of disaster relief for the state convention. Five of the thirteen hospitals in the quake region were destroyed and are in dire need of medical equipment and medication. The equipment, which is being donated by Southeastern Medical Supply, was to be transported into Chile with the country's military providing logistical support.
The relief effort in Chile is shaping up as an excellent example of Baptist cooperation, said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.
"It has been wonderful to see Southern Baptists cooperating on all levels. The state disaster relief teams from Texas and South Carolina have provided solid expertise in disaster relief. The in-country partners with the International Mission Board provided great leadership," Palmer said. "But one of the best things was to see the partnership with Chilean Baptists, who will be there responding and ministering long after the outsiders are gone."
The initial civil disturbances, like looting and violence, that broke out in the aftermath of the earthquake have been brought under control by the Chilean military and police, according to news services. An estimated 2 million people have been affected by the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that struck coastal villages. Between 500,000 and 1.5 million houses were destroyed and access to food, water, and electricity remain critical needs.
In addition to the kitchen units, an initial disbursement of $150,000 from Southern Baptist relief funds has been used to purchase water, first-aid supplies, and other relief materials for distribution in the quake zone, Clark said.
Another immediate need is emergency shelter, Clark said. "While some tents and tarps will be used for shelter, another option is a temporary pine-sided, tin-roofed, slatted-floor house that can be put together in a couple of hours," he said. "The materials, labor, and know-how are readily available locally. The cost is about $500 to $600 each to construct."
The possibility of providing 500 to 600 of the shelters, using $300,000 in disaster relief funds, is being evaluated, Clark said.
Partnership with Chilean Baptist representatives has been crucial to assessing the need and launching the joint relief effort, Clark noted.
"We have been traveling with three representatives of the Chile Baptist Convention who have been instrumental in our contacts with local Baptist churches," Clark said. "They are working on a number of different relief fronts, including food and basic needs distribution. El Sembrador Baptist Church of Talca has been generous to let us use their sanctuary as a dormitory, dining room, and headquarters."
For more information about the Chile relief effort, visit www.imb.org. Donations to Southern Baptist Chilean relief may be made at www.imb.org (click on the Chile quake response graphic). One hundred percent of each donation goes to meet human needs. Updated prayer requests can be viewed at www.imb.org/pray. Information also will be updated through Twitter at #QuakeResponse.