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Interfaith response group organizes in Turkish capital

BY SUSAN KIM | NEW YORK | August 21, 1999

NEW YORK (Aug. 21, 1999) -- As hopes for finding many more survivors

in Turkey faded, a faith-based leadership body has emerged to help

light the way for future response. The Churches of Turkey Steering

Committee for Disaster Relief -- including church officials,

missionaries, and disaster response specialists from throughout

Turkey -- is already implementing a coordinated response in the

devastated country.

The steering committee was organized in Istanbul on Thursday and met

again with ecumenical leaders on Friday. It will issue

recommendations about short and long-term response in Turkey, as well

as guidelines on how other countries can help. The committee will

also work closely with Action by Churches Together (ACT), and

international organization, which is already collecting donations for

earthquake survivors.

"In the midst of this enormous maelstrom of suffering and

destruction, the response of the church is heartening," said Johnny

Wray, who coordinates a Week of Compassion giving program through the

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Individuals who want to support the efforts of the steering committee

can make monetary donations to ACT and other faith-based

organizations. ACT is planning to issue an appeal early next week.

The ecumenical steering committee will also work closely with the

Middle East Council of Churches, Armenian Orthodox Church, Greek

Orthodox Church, and the European Conference of Churches. Two

missionaries with the United Church of Christ's Board for World

Ministries, Mick McCain and Ken Frank, will be among those assisting

in the initial organization of the steering committee.

About 99 percent of Turkey's population is Muslim, with 66 percent

Sunni Muslims, and about 33 percent Alevi, or Shia, Muslims. The

constitution proclaims Turkey a secular nation, so the faith-based

steering committee, although coordinating with government response

efforts, will not be government-funded or directed.

Government and faith-based leaders alike are reporting that a vast

combination of funding and resources -- government, faith-based,

health-related -- will likely be needed to help Turkey make even the

first steps toward recovery.

The death toll is still climbing -- some estimate it could reach more

than 30,000 -- with over-taxed emergency response workers and health

professionals and overflowing hospitals.

The number of injured is nearly 50,000, with thousands still missing,

and hopes for survival under the rubble rapidly diminishing. But

yesterday the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sent

another U.S.-based search and rescue team to assist in saving people

trapped in the rubble. The 72-member team and four search dogs from

the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department includes structural engineers

and medical personnel.

The first team was deployed from Fairfax, Va. to Istanbul earlier

this week, and search-and-rescue officials said that that possibility

of finding people alive remains open until next Tuesday. Thousands of

rescue workers and dogs are working around the clock, and

gravediggers work in constant shifts as well, marking graves with

wooden sticks handwritten with names.

Similar teams have also been sent by Great Britian and Germany.

Fires and flooding are also hampering rescue efforts. A 20-ft high

tidal wave in the Sea of Marmara destroyed large areas of the holiday

resort of Degirmendere moments after the earthquake on Tuesday.

Muslim practice is to bury the dead within 24 hours if possible, and

health professionals are encouraging that as well, since they are

growing increasingly alarmed over the likelihood of disease -- mainly

dysentery and cholera -- outbreaks due to the lack of clean water and

destroyed sanitation systems.

Most rescue workers are wearing masks and are being immunized against typhoid.

The sheer devastation makes it likely that emergency response efforts

will go on for several more weeks. In addition to initial response,

faith-based groups could also have a leading role in long-term

rebuilding efforts. The earthquake, which struck three days ago,

destroyed tens of thousands of houses in northwest Turkey. Millions

of Turkish residents are still sleeping in tent cities and on the


With some survivors still in shock, some with acute grief, and others

angry at the Turkish government, a united faith-based effort could

serve to counter hopelessness and conflict, according to response


Churches and other religious buildings in Turkey have been opened to

the public, serving food to the crowds who are afraid to return home.

Mild tremors continue to be felt in Istanbul. Turkish officials are

estimating that there may be up to $7 billion in damages.

Church World Service (CWS) has already committed an initial $250,000

for humanitarian response, including $100,000 from the CWS Blanket

Fund for bedding, tents and tarps, and is readying more materials as

well as technical assistance.

Other faith-based groups are also collecting donations through Web

sites and congregational appeals. Material donations are not being


at this time.

Since Turkey has very cold winters, disaster response leaders are

concerned that providing shelter to the thousands of homeless will be

a challenge in a comparatively short time frame.

Posted Aug. 21, 1999

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