Women cry next to a destroyed building in Talca, Chile. UMNS photos courtesy of Rodrigo Linfati.

A UMNS report by Linda Bloom

A feeling of uncertainty lingers for survivors of Chile’s massive earthquake as the country struggles to recover.

Continuing aftershocks and televised images of damage, desperation and violence has left everyone “in a state of unhealthy alert,” said the Rev. Shana Harrison, a United Methodist missionary based in Santiago.

“Fear and anger seem to be growing bigger each day as people continue to wait to hear news from their loved ones,” she said in a March 1 e-mail. “Today, opinions and critiques of how things are being handled have begun to fly. Impatience and intolerance are on the rise.”

Harrison expects the situation to improve as people learn about how they can help their neighbors.

“Please continue to keep the Chilean people in your prayers,” wrote Harrison, executive director of the Foundation Crescendo, a workshop and group home for adults with intellectual disabilities. “There is a long, long road ahead.”

Unrest continued in parts of Chile as President Michelle Bachelet used government troops to maintain control over looting and vandalism. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bachelet said  that 50 military flights with food, water and other supplies would be deployed March 2 to the areas hardest hit by the earthquake, which has claimed at least 723 lives.

The United Nations said that its World Food Programme was ready to transport 30 tons of food  from nearby Ecuador. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived March 2 in Santiago as part of a six-nation tour of Latin America and pledged U.S. support for earthquake relief.
Prayers and solidarity

In a March 1 letter to Bachelet, the top executive of the World Council of Churches offered prayers and solidarity to the Chilean people. The Methodist Church of Chile is among the country’s five member churches of the council.

“Pastoral accompaniment is urgently needed,” wrote the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit. “Churches play a crucial role praying with the people, accompanying the people, strengthening their struggle and resilience and rebuilding hope.”

The Council of Evangelical Methodist Churches of Latin America also issued a letter joining hands “in solidarity, prayer and fasting with our brothers and sisters that are suffering the consequences of an earthquake.”

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is working with the Methodist Church of Chile and Methodists are part of an ecumenical team headed March 4 from Santiago to the devastated city of Concepción, which is still thought to be without electricity, running water or telephone service.

Church members were able to confirm the status of U.S. volunteer teams serving in Chile on Feb. 27. A team from the denomination’s Oregon-Idaho Annual (regional) Conference was working with United Methodist Missionary John Elmore in Valdivia, which was unaffected by the earthquake. A Wisconsin Conference team, also safe, was working in La Granja. Both teams are still in Chile.
‘Extremely urgent’

With an initial emergency grant of $10,000 from UMCOR, the Methodist Church of Chile is assessing needs and bringing food and water to what the Rev. Juan Salazar, president of the Methodist Social Ministry, calls an “extremely urgent” situation.

Salazar also advised UMCOR that regional emergency teams would coordinate the distribution of supplies and make other needs assessments.

In a March 1 letter, Methodist Bishop Mario Martinez noted damage to churches and parsonages in the earthquake-affected areas, including Santiago, Angol, Chillán and Concepción, as well as a lack of water, electricity, telephone service and other basic services.

The church and its relief arm, the Methodist Humanitarian Action Team, are coordinating efforts with ecumenical and nongovernmental partners and in cooperation with the Chilean government’s emergency response agency.

UMCOR led a three-day training session on disaster preparedness and emergency response training for about 20 members of the Chilean church in October.

Donations to the relief efforts of UMCOR and the Methodist Church of Chile can be made online to Chile Emergency Advance # 3021178. Donations also can be sent by check to UMCOR and dropped in church offering plates or mailed to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Please indicate in the memo line of the check that it is for the Chile Emergency.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York. .

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