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UMCOR Training Critical in Chile Earthquake Response

By Linda Unger*

April 27, 2010—Methodist Church of Chile emergency response personnel who participated in an UMCOR training last fall said the program was critical to their ability to respond to the massive earthquake that practically followed on its heels.

Shortly after the October training, the Methodist Church of Chile (IMECH) formally established the Methodist Humanitarian Aid Team (EMAH), which would put into practice the tools for disaster response its members acquired.

Then, in the early hours of February 27, a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the country. It was one of the five most intense earthquakes anywhere in the world since 1900.

Some 500 people died, hundreds more went missing, 1.5 million homes were damaged or destroyed, and total damages of $30 billion were sustained mainly in the central and southern parts of the country.

Juan Salazar, EMAH national coordinator, said the training, led by UMCOR executives Melissa Crutchfield and Rev. Tom Hazelwood, for representatives of each of the church’s 14 districts was “fundamental” to their ability to be present to quake survivors.

It provided, he said, “the basic tools we needed in order to understand how to respond to emergencies like this earthquake: how to evaluate damages, how to prepare and distribute calorie-appropriate and nutritious food aid,” for example.

Salazar said the training also gave EMAH credentials with the Chilean government’s disaster response office, ONEMI, and allowed its personnel to be present in the planning and response on a national level from the very first moments of the crisis. 

"Always Prepared"

Benedicto García is the caretaker of the Methodist mission church in Linares and EMAH’s representative in the Concepción District. The epicenter of the quake was located 70 miles from Concepción and some of the district’s coastal towns, including Talcahuano and Dichato, were severely damaged.

“The most valuable thing about the October training was the tools the program offered us: how to distinguish priorities, how to critique the ONEMI response, even how to detect corruption in the earthquake response,” García said. “We learned, too, that assistance must be given in a way that avoids dependency and political gain.”

García, who had been living on the church grounds in Linares, had to move into the still under construction shell of the new church building because the damage to his rooms made them uninhabitable.

“Now we know how to be always prepared,” said Miriam Flores, president of the Women’s Association at the Methodist Church of Los Angeles, where glass and rubble scattered on the floor of the sanctuary and huge gashes in the walls prevent the faithful from meeting there.

Flores also is an EMAH representative and participated in the October exercise. “If there were anything I would add to the training,” she said, “it would have to do with providing a spiritual and emotional response to the survivors,” she said. “We’re finding this is a big challenge for people.”

The February quake was so intense that it is considered a “great” earthquake, that is, one that measures 8.0 or higher, according to The New York Times. A temblor measuring 7.2 shook the country again when President Sebastián Piñiero was inaugurated March 11, and innumerable “moderate” to “strong” tremors, measuring 5.0 to 6.9, continue to rattle residents.

“As a country, we are destined for catastrophes due to our geographic makeup: earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, to name a few,” said Juan Salazar. “EMAH can provide a professional, rather than a spontaneous, response to these crises.”

Salazar will travel to UMCOR’s New York City headquarters in early May to plan with Hazelwood and Crutchfield further disaster response training for EMAH personnel.

Help the Chilean people rebuild their lives with your gift to Chile Emergency, UMCOR Advance #3021178. Online Giving

 

* Linda Unger is UMCOR’s staff writer.