Churches stand ready to respond to Chilean earthquake

Published March 2, 2010

Churches throughout the world are poised to respond to the devastating magnitude-8.8 earthquake that hit Chile on Saturday, Feb. 27, killing at least 700 people and damaging some 1.5 million homes.Episcopal Relief & Development said in a Feb. 28 press release that it is “reaching out to dioceses in the affected areas to determine the best course of action,” and asked for continued prayers. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the Episcopal Church “is saddened by the death and destruction in Chile, and holds our brothers and sisters in prayer.”The strongest quake to hit Chile in 50 years struck off the Pacific coast at 2:34 a.m. local time at a depth of nearly 22 miles, sparking fears of tsumanis. The epicenter was approximately 60 miles northwest of Chillan, and 220 miles southeast of Chile’s capital, Santiago. Some 90 aftershocks have also been reported, including a 6.3-magnitude quake in Argentina.The quake has affected an estimated 2 million people and President Michelle Bachelet has declared a state of catastrophe in central Chile.Diocese of Chile Bishop Hector Zavala Munoz, speaking by telephone on March 1 with the Rev. Glenda McQueen, the Episcopal Church’s program officer for the Anglican Provinces in Latin America and the Caribbean, confirmed that all Anglicans in Santiago were safe and that electricity had started to return to parts of the capital.Munoz said that communication had been more challenging with those in Concepcion, Chile’s second largest city located 71 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.He was able to speak briefly with clergy in Concepcion — where there are three Anglican congregations — to verify that they and their families were safe and to learn that many of their parishioners are currently living in makeshift camps. Munoz said he and other diocesan officials will make a 10-hour round trip to Concepcion on March 2 to deliver much-needed supplies.The Anglican Church in Chile (Iglesia Anglicana de Chile) is located in the Province of the Southern Cone of America, which also includes dioceses in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.South American Missionary Society Ireland heard on March 1 from Samuel Lago, a lay member of the Diocese of Chile, who recently completed a one-year parish placement in Belfast, Northern Ireland.According to a post on the SAMS Ireland website, Lago also acknowledged there was no news about the state of Anglican churches in Concepcion.”We’re having a hard time getting any information and what we’re getting is generally not good,” he said. “In Santiago, there are still several places without the basic services (including the building where I live) but other than that, things are alright, with intact infrastructure and local small businesses selling water and goods.”The society urged prayers, especially for social order, as news of looting began to emerge. On March 1, Bachelet imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the two provinces closest to the earthquake’s epicenter.”The news we’re now getting is quite disturbing: riots, looting, people trapped under buildings and even hundreds of people having escaped a few of the local prisons,” said Lago.In Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz immediately called fellow Anglicans to join him in prayer for those affected. “As with the disaster in Haiti, there is no doubt that a great many people will be homeless and have their lives disrupted,” he said.Chile is located along the Pacific Rim’s “Ring of Fire,” where the Nazca and South American tectonic plates cross. Although Chile’s earthquake was almost a 1,000 times stronger than the one that hit Haiti on Jan. 12, the South American country is better prepared for such disasters due to the frequency of quakes in the region and the resistance with which buildings are constructed.The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has initiated a response and will be working with its longstanding companions: the Iglesia Evangelica Luterana en Chile (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile), a member of the Lutheran World Federation; and Educacion Popular en Salud (Popular Education in Health Foundation).The ELCA News Service reported that their Lutheran church buildings in Santiago had sustained some structural damage, according to the Rev. Martin Junge, LWF general secretary-elect. Junge, a Chilean, said that communication with congregations in Concepcion has been “extremely difficult,” and it has not been possible to reach some Lutheran pastors in the area by telephone, the news service reported.Although tsunami warnings for the entire Pacific region have been called off, “residents of many affected nations are still waiting to return to their homes around coastal areas,” Episcopal Relief & Development reported. “Caution has been advised as changes in sea level and unusual currents may characterize Pacific waters in the coming days.”(Matthew Davies is editor and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service.)


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