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Major response seen by relief agencies

BY GEORGE PIPER | BALTIMORE | November 18, 1998

BALTIMORE (Nov. 18, 1998) -- As relief workers continue feeding and

sheltering thousands of Central Americans left homeless by Hurricane Mitch,

faith-based disaster response organizations in the United States deal with a

tremendous influx of donations targeted for the stricken countries.

At Catholic Relief Services (CRS) headquarters in Baltimore, some 15,000

donors deluged telephone lines and pledged assistance -- and that's not even

the phone number where donations usually come in, said Kerry Hodges,

communications assistant with CRS.

The international Catholic disaster relief organization approved more than

$3 million dollars to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador with

another $15 million pending, said Hodges. Honduras, which was been ground

zero in terms of destruction, received half of the $3 million to date. CRS

funnels money to its representatives in those countries, or it purchases

goods to send to Central America.

"We now have a better grasp of what the needs are in these countries," she

said. "We're able to get the money up here and know exactly what the people

in the field need."

Mitch, the fourth most powerful Atlantic storm this century, battered

Honduras for parts of five days beginning Oct. 26. In Central America,

about 1.5 million are homeless and 10,000 feared dead.

CRS officials are processing donations from various sources, including

$200,000 billed to credit card customers last week alone. Individual

dioceses are funneling money to CRS, whether it's $100,000 from the Austin

area or $12,000 from a small Florida parish group.

Other U.S. faith-based organizations face similar situations as concerned

citizens contribute to relieve Mitch's misery. Estimates put aid of all

kinds at $250 million through Tuesday.

Church World Service (CWS) expanded its Hurricane Mitch appeal to $300,000

and is sending food and other material assistance to the Christian

Commission for Development (CCD) in Honduras. Other shipments of food,

medicines, tools and relief kits are scheduled to depart later this month

to Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

Also, CWS will be sending Don Sibley, a member of the Presbyterian Church

(USA), to Honduras to work with CCD in preparations of receiving medical

teams over the next several weeks. Lonnie Turnipseed, former CWS director,

will be working in the Latin America/Caribbean Office to handle the

application process for potential medical team members and the logistics of

getting them to Honduras.

With so much damage and the amount of aid coming to Central America, CWS is

advocating additional assessment to determine on-going and long-term needs.

To handle the large amount of relief supplies entering Honduras, CCD is

renting warehouses and purchasing trucks to get aid to communities. The

organization is focusing efforts in rural areas, which traditionally are

underserved by government and private organizations.

At this point, cash is the better donation for the Central American relief

efforts than clothes or canned goods, Hodges noted. When possible, CRS has

its representatives purchase goods in their host country. That strategy took a

back seat shortly after the Mitch hit, Hodges added, when initial purchases

cleared out existing supplies.

During a week in Honduras, Hodges said it appeared relief supplies were

getting through to known disaster survivors. She saw volunteers packaging

relief kits for people in shelters, and noted that helicopters made

deliveries to villages isolated by impassable highways. "It was good to see

it actually getting to the people who need it," she said, adding that hopes

of rebuilding the country were present in shelters.

Although local churches have been helpful in organizing supplies for

survivors, Hodges said it's likely there are others in remote sections that

haven't received any relief. "I think we're going to keep finding more

people who need our services," she said.

Other faith-based organizations are conducting or preparing responses as

well.

On the heels of fund-raisers and food deliveries for Hurricane Georges

survivors, the Christian Reform World Relief Committee (CRWRC) finds itself

repeating the process for Mitch. The organization is working with some 20

partners in Central America to distribute money and grain, said Don

Miedema, CRWRC program consultant for Honduras.

Transportation -- both within and to Honduras -- hampered initial relief

efforts. Debris-filled roads and washed out bridges cut off routes to

villages, Miedema said, while CRWRC worked to secure space on airlines to

get supplies there.

Mitch wiped out homes as well as corn and bean crops slated for a winter

harvest. That puts a stress on relief efforts, Miedema said, while disaster

relief officials weigh the options of providing food and housing.

Brick and cement structures would withstand strong storms better than the

adobe residences easily washed away by strong flood currents, but it's also

more costly. The worst thing for Hondurans, said Miedema, is if relief

efforts rebuild villages to the extent that no money or resources are

available to feed those still without homes or jobs.

Bulk food and money are being collected by the United Methodist Committee

on Relief (UMCOR) for Mitch survivors. The organization expects to send

work teams for rebuilding homes sometime in 1999.

The Lutheran World Relief is sending 775 bales (44 tons) of material aid to

parish hurricane committees and local communities; and the Adventist

Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) plans to furnish clothing, blankets

and monetary donations to the efforts


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