The Anglican Diocese of Chile is responding to the urgent needs of its members after a magnitude-8.8 earthquake devastated parts of central Chile on Feb. 28, claiming almost 800 lives and affecting nearly two million people.
In a letter to the diocese, Chile Bishop Héctor Zavala reported that the general situation of the church is good. "There has been no loss of life, although there is some structural damage to buildings which will need to be repaired during the second stage of recovery," he said.
But the region most affected is Concepción, Chile's second largest city located 71 miles from the earthquake's epicenter, where many of the 500,000 inhabitants are without basic supplies.
Zavala and other diocesan clergy were en route to Concepción on March 3 in trucks full of supplies such as food and clothing. The region is still without electricity making communication challenging.
President Michelle Bachelet of Chile has responded to looting in the region by imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew and sending 14,000 troops to restore order.
There are three Anglican congregations -- two Spanish speaking and one English speaking -- in Concepción that share two church buildings. Although the diocese could not verify if the earthquake had caused any damage to the churches, a staff member told ENS that one of the buildings is being used to distribute supplies.
In his letter, Zavala said about 70 families from the Anglican churches in Concepción had been affected and are now sleeping in tents in three different parts of the city: Manqimavida, San Pedro de la Paz and Las Lomas. "As the families are grouped together they can share cooking pots and maximize the few provisions they have between them," he said.
Zavala urged the church "to unite and mobilize" in support of the churches in Concepción, and asked pastors and lay leaders throughout the diocese to organize prayer networks in each church.
Episcopal Relief & Development has said it will disburse emergency funds to the Anglican Diocese of Chile "to help purchase critical supplies such as food, water and shelter that will be distributed to families in areas hit hardest by the quake." The agency said it will continue to communicate with the diocese as the situation unfolds and additional needs are assessed.
The Anglican Church in Chile (Iglesia Anglicana de Chile) is located in the Province of the Southern Cone of America, which also includes dioceses in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.
A diocesan staff member told ENS that while none of its parishioners had suffered any physical damage, some of their homes and workplaces have been damaged.
The earthquake, the strongest to hit Chile in 50 years, struck off the Pacific coast at 2:34 a.m. local time at a depth of nearly 22 miles, sparking fears of tsumanis. The epicenter was approximately 60 miles northwest of Chillan, and 220 miles southeast of Chile's capital, Santiago. More than 100 aftershocks have shaken the region.
The U.K.-based Church Mission Society reported one church member near the quake's epicenter as saying: "Our country is submerged in pain, death and hopelessness. The effects of the earthquake, combined with tsunamis, are indescribable. The images transmitted on television, while dramatic, do not reflect all of the pain and drama of all the victims of this great tragedy."
CMS mission partners Daniel and Ellelein Kirk, based in the coastal town of Vina del Mar, watched the sea go out three times the normal distance as panic spread about tsunamis.
"In a busy supermarket near the coast the rumor spread that a tsunami was coming and suddenly everyone abandoned the place fleeing to try and find higher ground," they said. "Shopping carts were abandoned all over the place but there were a fair number of folk who just didn't pay and walked out with their trolleys full taking advantage of the chaos."
The Kirks urged prayers "for those who have lost everything, those who have lost loved ones and that violence and theft won't escalate."
-- Matthew Davies is editor and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service.