Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Earthquake: A Perspective from Within

The following is from the relief team leader's report to our regional leadership:

The first city we arrived in was in Cañete. We went to a section of the town were we have a new Baptist church. This community is called Santa Cruz. There are about 300 adults in the community. Counting children, the community is over 1000. This area suffered some structural damages to houses with 8 to 10 houses be completely destroyed. These families were sleeping out in an open field. They did not have any type of shelter. The community had been without water and electricity for two days. The community had organized a common kitchen area. With large pots, they were cooking food for everyone who could contribute something. While we were there, a small water truck from the government arrived. However, he only had a limited amount of water and was not planning to return to the community. Through the local pastor, we were able to contract a water truck to provide water for the next several days. We want to return to provide some temporary shelter for these the 8 to 10 families. There is the potential for a volunteer team to help with rebuilding the homes, since there was so few that was completely demolished. We would probably want to build the homes with materials that are similar to the other houses.

We went on to the next major town called Chincha. We decided to leave the trucks full of supplies on the main road and Debbie and I entered the town with the pastor and British missionary. The concern I had was that if the people saw the trucks full of supplies, they would want the items. We did not have enough to give out to large groups. The town, like most of the area was without electricity. When we entered the town, there was a lot of damage to the brick buildings downtown but some of the greater damage was in the poor areas. In these areas, the houses are made of adobe (mud brick) walls. We have a new Baptist work in a poor area called Pueblo Nuevo. Caesar, the young pastor, lost his entire house. When I refer to “house” I am typically referring to a one or two room structure. It is incredible to see the concern of this pastor for helping the people in his community when his house was one of the hardest hit. There were blocks of these houses that were completely demolished. In his community there are about 120 families. Again, the greatest need was water, food and shelter.

Caesar then took us to a larger community called Húsare de Junin. This community has 360 families. When we arrived in the community in my truck, several hundred people quickly made two lines behind the truck, ready to receive any help. I was very surprised how orderly the people were. This was not the case in most of the communities. I had to explain to them that this was an investigation trip. As we talked to several hundred people, the main need they had was for food and water. We told them that we would try to get a water truck to help them that day and return with other supplies. We rode around the town of Chincha in search of a water truck who would take water to these people. Water in these towns is a business. Owners drill wells then use trucks to sell water to the poor communities. We went to several areas that had wells many were already empty and the ones who had water did not want to sell it to us. We were very discouraged. Then we say another truck and Pepe and Caesar approached the driver. The driver was moved by our desire to help the people. He agreed to take water to the communities and only charge $16 dollars for over 5000 gallons of water. Only God can make that happen! We left money with Cesar to take 6 loads of water to the communities in the next several days. We need to return to these two communities to provide food and shelter.

In these two communities in Chincha (really, all of Chincha), the markets had closed because of looting. The small stores that were still selling food had raised the price to as much as 3 times the normal cost. The people who had a little money were not able to get it since it was under the rubble of their homes. Due to the disaster the town has virtually stopped functioning. There was no work and most people live day to day, buying food with the money they earn in that same day.

I will also add that when we were leaving the community Húsare de Junin, we made a wrong turn and entered another community. Several hundred people approached our vehicle asking for help. The people were somewhat upset that we were unable to help them. They were yelling things like, we need water, we need food. We left this area with several people running after our vehicle. While the people did not harm us or the vehicle, we understand how volatile the situation is. The people are desperate. In several occasions when we were talking to the people, they expressed their frustration that no help is arriving. They would often say, If you cannot give food to all of us, please give some food to the children.

When we left Chincha, we went toward Pisco. This town is one that has made much of the headlines. Most of the deaths had occurred in Pisco. It took several hours to get to Pisco because of the damage done to the roads. There were places that the asphalt road had been lifted or dropped 4 feet. Some parts of the road had slid off the cliff on the side to the ocean. Another difficult part of the stretch of road was damage done to a bridge. We waited over 2 ½ hours to cross the bridge. They would only let a few cars cross at a time. While we were waiting in line, looters were assaulting the vehicles that had supplies. There were some military soldiers who would shoot in the air and run off the looters. However, when the soldiers were some distance away, the looters would return. Some of them were able to open the back of one of our trucks and take several items. We were finally able to get the attention of one of the police who chased the looters off. This type of looting was happening all along the road from Chincha to Pisco, to Ica. When we approached Pisco, we decided not to enter the town for several reasons. One was that we did not have a contact in that town. Another reason was that our trucks were loaded with supplies that were headed for Ica and we felt that we could be at risk for looters. When we returned to Lima we would go through Pisco with the trucks empty.

We continued to Ica. We have a Baptist church in Ica. The Pastor of the church is named Daniel Terrones. When we arrived at the church, we had to unload the supplies quickly. There was a lot of looting taking place in Ica. The day before, the main market was closed due to looting. The church was completely destroyed. The front wall is leaning forward to the point that is will fall at any minute. Since no one can enter through the front door, the only access to the church is climbing on the roof of the property next door and going down a stairway to the pastor’s house that is connect to the church. The church is about 30 by 60 feet with a metal roof structure. The columns on one side of the church collapsed causing the roof structure to fall.

That evening, I went with the pastor of the church and Pepe Flores to a community called, Los Pollitos. This community is a squatters area. There are over 300 families in this community. It was dark when we arrived in the community. However, I could tell that most of the houses were completely destroyed. We talked to the people and asked them to prepare a list of every family. The community did not have water so we said that we would return the next day to talk about how to get water to them. Like all communities, we prayed for their needs and thanked God for sparing their lives. of their homes. In this area, like most of the areas we visited, the evenings drop into the 40s° with heavy mist.

There is a small school beside the church property. The guard of the school agreed to allow us to park our trucks in the school, on the courtyard. This was another work of God. The town of Ica is not safe and I was concerned about where to park our vehicles. The guard said that as long we were gone before the administrator of the school arrived at 8:00, we could stay. Several of the missionaries slept in the vehicles while others slept on the floor in a school room. Throughout the night we heard gun shots, police whistles and people shouting. Since the community had not electricity, there was looting most of the night. Several of the looters would approach a house with guns. They would enter the house and rob what they could. At times, people would bang on the metal gate that led into the school parking lot. I stayed awake most of the night walking around the vehicles. At one point in the night, we had two significant tremors. We could hear a lot of people screaming. They were running into the streets, thinking that another earthquake was happening. The people in the area are very traumatized.

The next day, we returned to the community, we found that they had water. Since this community is near more developed residential housing, they have access to several water faucets. We mentioned to them that God had heard our prayers and had help restore the water. However, as we looked at the houses, every house was damaged. Most were completely destroyed. The needs were similar, food, blankets and shelter. They also asked for flashlights since at nights, looters would come in and carry off any item they had that had survived the earthquake. Most of the people were sleeping in the streets, in front of the rubble of their homes. In this area, like most of the areas we visited, the evenings drop into the 40s° with heavy mist. The needs were obvious. While there were over 100 people around us, we were able to talk to the four community leaders. They presented a list of all families living in the fours sectors of the community. We told that we would plan to return with food and plastic to help them have temporary shelter. While we were talking with them, two other communities came to use with the list of their families. We quickly toured their communities, noting similar situations. We told the people that our contact was pastor Daniel.

When we returned to the church decided on a plan to distribute the water, blankets, and hygiene kits. The pastor would work with the community leaders to decide who has the greatest need at this moment. He would rent a taxi to take the materials to them. The pastor also mentioned several church members than needed some of the supplies. We had originally planned on giving out the supplies while we were in Ica but due to great number of people who where in need and the problems of looting, we decided it would be best for the pastor to give out these items on a personal basis. One idea he is going to do is to give each church member several of the hygiene bags. They are to find people in need and use the bags as a witnessing tool.

After we met with the pastor we began our trip home. The traffic around the difficult parts in the road had increased. In fact we passed about 16 miles of stopped cars and trucks going in the opposite direction. I know that many of these vehicles will not make it past the difficult areas of the road until tomorrow. On the way home we went to another town called Paracas. This town is directly on the ocean. When the earthquake hit, the large waves entered all the houses. While it did not demolish the houses, it did do damage. However, the houses are still livable, once the mud is cleaned out. We talked with a volunteer groups from the Civil Defense of Columbia. They mentioned that the 200 to 300 people would not return to their homes. They were living on a large sand dune. They were afraid to return to their homes. The problem is that they are out in the open without any shelter. The volunteer group has met many of the immediate medical needs of the people. They did share with us that they were low on medical supplies. They shared with us the most common medicines used in their disaster relief response. This list will assist us in the future. We may purchase some medicines to help this volunteer group. We don´t feel that we need to give anything to the people at this time but we could help in the cleanup.

From Paracas we went through parts of Pisco, the town we had bypassed earlier. There is considerable damage in this town. We later found out that one of the members of the church where Debbie and I attend has family in Pisco. This person may be a good contact for us. We should know more about this person this next week.

We arrive in Lima around 6:00 this evening. The return trip took about 9 hours. It typically takes 4 hours for us to make the same trip.

We found the people to be very responsive to our help and open to talk about God. Several times Pepe Flores mentioned to the people that they were blessed because they were still alive. They openly agreed with him. Pepe led the large groups in prayer, asking for Gods protection, provision, and forgiveness for not always following him. It was incredible to hear several hundred people repeating the prayer that Pepe was leading. This prayer will lead many toward a saving knowledge of Jesus. It was also so encouraging to hear Pepe and the local pastors talk about how they could start new churches and cell groups among the communities we are going to help.

Pray for Peru!


Jimmy said...

I am a fellow collegue in Mozambique, Africa serving. I know you are busy and may not read this for a while but wanted you to know I am praying for the Peruvians affected by this tragedy as well as our collegues serving there. I already see God at work and an awesome job of giving me a clear picture on what is happened there and what will continue to be an ongoing need.

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...

Dear Fellow Colleague,

thanks, Jimmy, for your prayers and encouragement. We are leaving for a meeting in just a moment. In that meeting we will make some key decisions as to how we should respond.

Blessings on you in your challenging reality where you are!