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February 28, 2010

Lutherans in Chile report significant earthquake damage


Earthquake damage is said to be extensive in Santiago and Concepcion following the Feb. 27 severe earthquake in central Chile, according to Karen Anderson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Global Mission staff in Santiago.

The Feb. 27 earthquake measured 8.8 on the Richter scale. The Chilean government has reported at least 147 deaths in all of the country. A tsunami warning was issued for the entire Pacific basin as a result of the earthquake, including Hawaii and U.S. territories such as Guam and American Samoa.

According to news reports in Chile, the earthquake damaged 1.5 million homes, 500,000 "very seriously," Anderson wrote in an e-mail to the ELCA News Service . Phone service was not available.

"Many homes, especially in older parts of Santiago, were destroyed," she wrote. The international airport there suffered "major damage" and is closed, Anderson wrote.

"We are all still waiting to hear news from Concepcion. There is very little communication with people in Concepcion -- the IELCH (Iglesia Evangelica Luterana en Chile or Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile) has congregations there," Anderson wrote. The IELCH is a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

Anderson also works with another ELCA partner organization, Educacion Popular en Salud (Popular Education in Health Foundation or EPES), which promotes quality and fairness in health care for the poor, and works to establish and train community health groups.

She said most EPES staff is accounted for in Santiago. "EPES has a center in Concepcion. We have not been able to communicate with anyone on our staff in Concepcion — led by Dr. Lautaro Lopez — or any of the health promoters. We are hoping and praying they are okay. The damage reported on the news is devastating — entire buildings collapsed, the old bridge completely collapsed, and so on. The images are very sad and frightening," Anderson wrote.

She wrote she had spoken with Gloria Rojas, IELCH president. Rojas has been in contact with most of the other pastors of the IELCH and reported that it appeared no one has suffered personal injuries.

The weekend is the last of the summer in Chile, Anderson wrote. "At this point, the authorities are recommending that people stay close to home. EPES will be meeting with health promoters as soon as possible to see what we need to do to help people in the communities we work in," she added.

There was some structural damage to Lutheran church buildings in Santiago, Chile's capital, according to Martin Junge, LWF general secretary-elect. Junge, a Chilean, reported that communication with congregations in Concepcion has been "extremely difficult," and it has not been possible to reach some Lutheran pastors in the area by telephone.

On behalf of the LWF, Junge expressed solidarity with companions in Chile. The LWF alerted the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance to evaluate the needs of people in the coming days. At the moment, however, it is difficult to assess what those needs may be, reported Junge. The ACT Alliance is made up of churches and related agencies working together in disaster response and development. It is based in Geneva with the LWF. The ELCA is a member of the LWF.

More information will be shared as channels of communication are restored, said Rojas.

In a Feb. 27 pastoral letter Rojas wrote that the members of IELCH have lifted in prayer the families of those that have perished in the earthquake. "Receive love, comfort and strength in this time of difficulty, understanding the full conviction that we are not alone in this journey. God is with us," she wrote.

Financial contributions to support earthquake relief efforts in Chile can be made at the ELCA Web site.

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