Humanitarian response to massive Chile earthquake begins

By staff writers
February 27, 2010

A massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit Chile at 03.34 local time on Saturday 27 February 2010. The extent of the damage is difficult to determine, but buildings have collapsed and more than three hundred people are already reported dead.

Global church agencies, cooperating through ACT International, are among those who are making an immediate response to the disaster.

According to an ADN Radio reporter, many beach towns were wiped out, including Matanzas, which is a wind/kite surfing destination attracting many people from overseas. The town is along the beach and is reported to be completely submerged.

The reporter said a witness in a beach town near Valparaiso reported that two hundred beach homes, most with people inside, were washed away.

According to the US Geological Survey, a 56th major aftershock, magnitude 5.2, was centred off the Bio-Bio shore of Chile at around 22.00 GMT. A further 10 aftershocks have been recorded.

The Mayor of Santiago, the country's capital, has recently ordered the evacuation of residents around a factory where a fire released a toxic chemical cloud.

Residents on the Pacific Rim and Island peoples are now anxiously on Tsunami watch.

Tsunamis occur when a large body of water is rapidly displaced and can take several hours to travel very large distances.

Early warnings to local communities alerting them to get away from the coastlines are critical and can save many lives.

After an earthquake or tsunami, it can take several days to access the most affected areas and several weeks to establish how many people have lost their lives.

The UK-based churches' international development agency, Christian Aid, says it will be supporting its partner the Church World Service (CWS), from North America, a fellow member of the ACT Alliance, as they undertake emergency response and recovery work.

ACT (Action of Churches Together) is a global ecumenical coalition of church NGO's, many locally based, with decades of experience of responding to both relief and development priorities.

CWS has worked in Chile for many years to provide emergency preparedness training – something that may well have saved many lives in this disaster, say experts.

Working with Chilean organisations Fundacion de Ayuda Social de las Iglesia Cristianas and the Methodist Church of Chile, CWS will now work to provide emergency assistance such as food, water and shelter.

"As we continue to monitor the situation, we are asking people to donate to our appeal so that we are able to respond quickly to this disaster," a Christian Aid spokesperson said on Saturday evening.

"The most important needs right now will be temporary accommodation, food and water and medical care. Many people could also need significant help to cope with the initial shock of this disaster, especially if they have lost loved ones."

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Keywords:quake | Pacific | earthquake | chile
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