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United Methodists respond to Chile earthquake


3:00 P.M. EST Feb. 27, 2010

UMNS image courtesy 
of Wikimedia Commons.
UMNS image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

United Methodists were scrambling to respond to a massive earthquake that struck Chile early on Feb. 27 and prompted tsunami warnings across the Pacific region.

The magnitude 8.8 earthquake, which hit about 60 miles northwest of the town of Chillán, left nearly 150 people dead, according to news reports, including at least three people swept into a large wave on an island 400 miles off the coast of Chile. Santiago, the capital, is 200 miles northeast of the epicenter.

President Michelle Bachelet declared a "state of catastrophe" in central Chile, and the quake was felt in neighboring countries as far away as Brazil, according to news reports.

The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, an UMCOR emergency response executive, said the agency had exchanged e-mails with Juan Salazar, president of Ministerio Social Metodista in Chile, to offer assistance.

He also was in touch with United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of Los Angeles regarding the tsunami warnings for Hawaii. Swenson is leader of the denomination’s California Pacific Annual (regional) Conference, which includes Hawaii.

A tsunami wave could affect Hawaii as early as 4:05 p.m. Eastern time, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The earthquake struck at 3:34 a.m. and reports of damage continued to come in all day. The force of the earthquake was enough to jolt the 94-year-old mother of the Rev. Oscar Carrasco, a district superintendent in the United Methodist Northern Illinois Conference, from her bed in Curacautín.

Joyce Carrasco, Oscar’s wife, reported that they had heard his mother was OK, but that his sister’s house next door was heavily damaged. Her mother-in-law is keeping the family focused in prayer and she feels the family is blessed to be able to be together and prepare a meal. "Thank goodness for fire wood while Curacautín is isolated. … bridges are out. There is a tense calm," Carrasco said. "Still waiting to hear more news."

A United Methodist volunteer-in-mission group from Wisconsin, working in Chile since Feb. 17, was reported to be safe. The team was doing repair work at the Agricultural School of La Granja in the town of Nueva Imperial.

Hazelwood said the Methodist Church in Chile will be better able to respond to the earthquake because of disaster training that he and Melissa Crutchfield, an UMCOR colleague, conducted there in October. The autonomous denomination has some 15,000 members.

About 20 church members, representing different districts, participated in the three-day disaster preparedness and emergency response training, which also allowed for networking with local authorities and emergency response partners.

The plan is to create a humanitarian response system in Chile in collaboration with UMCOR and the Chilean Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior. “We have a great relationship with the people in Chile and the church in Chile,” Hazelwood added.

Hazelwood and Crutchfield had intended to return to Chile in January to sign a memorandum of understanding with the church, he said, but the trip was postponed because of the earthquake in Haiti.

Donations to the United Methodist Committee on Relief for emergency relief work in Chile can be made online.

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

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

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