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Concepción coping despite earthquake


3:00 P.M. EST March 9, 2010

More than 300 
families in Concepción, Chile, are receiving water through Educación 
Popular en Salud, an organization that works to improve health care 
services in local communities. A UMNS Photo courtesy of ELCA News 
More than 300 families in Concepción, Chile, are receiving water through Educación Popular en Salud, an organization that works to improve health-care services in local communities. A UMNS Photo courtesy of ELCA News Service.
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The earthquake-damaged Chilean city of Concepción resembles "a war zone," says a Lutheran who visited there as part of an ecumenical assessment team.

Among those joining Karen Anderson, a Santiago-based staff member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Global Mission, on the trip were Methodist Bishop Mario Martínez and Juan Salazar, president of Methodist Social Ministry.

Team members traveled to Concepción March 4-7 to assess the needs of people there following the Feb. 27 earthquake. Hundreds of people were killed by the 8.8 magnitude earthquake, which struck central Chile about 70 miles northeast of Concepción and 200 miles south of Santiago, Chile's capital.

In a March 8 e-mail, Anderson said it took the team about "12 hours to make the six-hour trip because of the damage to sections of the road and bridges." When they arrived in Concepción, there was an 18-hour curfew and military personnel were posted throughout the city.

 "As we drove through the city … at 7 p.m., it was like a ghost town with very few cars on the streets, and (there were) military checkpoints," said Anderson.  The team was on its way to visit Educación Popular en Salud (Popular Education in Health Foundation), an ELCA partner organization that works to improve health-care services in local communities.

The team met with Dr. Lautaro Lopez, the foundation’s director. Since the earthquake, Lopez has been providing medical care to neighbors and organizing water distribution.  More than 300 families – about 1,200 individuals -- are receiving water every day from the water source on the foundation’s property, Anderson reported.

Concepción's municipality "has been helping pump out the water with a generator," Anderson said.  With funds from the ELCA, "we bought our own generator, which we took with us.  Luckily the power was back on, and we were able to run the pump with electricity from our building," she said, adding that Lopez organized a neighborhood committee to distribute water.

Although the first few days after the earthquake were very tense, as people were panicking about the lack of water, food and other basic necessities, "things are running smoothly now," said Anderson.

Aftershocks continue

For the Rev. Víctor Hugo Cisterna, pastor of the First Methodist Church of Concepción, the frequent aftershocks have not helped smooth the way to recovery. “We experience such uncertainty and stress, because the quakes come back every 15 minutes,” he said on March 5, the same day the city experienced two earthquakes of 6.3 and 6.8 magnitude.

His church includes a prestigious school and a boardinghouse for college students. Both the parsonage and boardinghouse held up well during the Feb. 27 earthquake, but the church’s steeple had some damage, and the sanctuary has two large cracks.

At the school, the computer laboratory was completely lost and the gym heavily damaged. The library also sustained damage. In Chile, the school year starts in March, but that won’t be possible under the current circumstances, Cisterna said.

“My big concern now is that we haven’t seen much help coming in. Today, six days after the earthquake, the relief is starting to come,” he said. “Everything has been too slow. This has produced disgust in the population. The government did not take the problem seriously.”

Both denominations have been assisting their counterparts in Chile with relief efforts. The ELCA sent $10,000 to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile and the United Methodists sent a $10,000 grant to the Methodist Church of Chile.

The ELCA also provided $10,000 to assist the efforts of the health foundation, and $20,000 for an ecumenical response through Action by Churches Together Alliance. Church World Service provided $15,000 to Chilean Methodists.

The Rev. Gloria Rojas, pastor-president of Lutheran Church; Kathryn Lawler, a regional ELCA Global Mission representative based in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and a Church World Service representative also were part of the team.

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.

*Humberto Casanova of United Methodist Communications contributed to this report.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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