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Disaster response teams pour into shaken Turkey

BY SUSAN KIM | WASHINGTON | August 25, 1999

WASHINGTON (Aug. 25, 1999) -- From airlifted portable kitchens to

specialized medical teams, the faith-based community is

answering the urgent call in Turkey. The country's damage

statistics are tragic and daunting: a death toll

approaching 40,000, another 50,000 injured, and 200,000

people living outdoors, afraid to return to their homes.

But the response statistics are also growing. Two mobile

kitchens, airlifted in today and operated by ten Baptist

Men from Texas, could generate 25,000 meals a day each.

"The kitchens flip into the belly of an airplane,"

explained Mickey Caison, who coordinates the teams from

the North American Mission Board. "Normally, we can

produce up to 20,000 meals a day, but since we're

training Turkish people to operate the kitchens, we can

work in constant shifts, and produce up to 50,000 meals

per day," said Caison.

He's sending a second team within two weeks, and plans to

purchase two more kitchens.

The volunteers pay their own way to Turkey, many through

fundraisers within their own church or community. Was it

difficult to find people willing to go? "Never," said

Caison. "It was a matter of making some phone calls."

It's a similar story for an Assemblies of God medical

missions program, which sent a six-person emergency

medical team to Turkey Tuesday morning. Team members include

an Assembly of God staff person who is an EMT with

experience in international disaster response, as well as

a physician, a relief logistics specialist, two nurses,

and a medical technician.

Their priority is to address acute medical needs,

primarily injuries sustained during the earthquake, and

to help offset the alarming -- and growing -- possibility

of disease epidemics by securing safe water an assisting

with sanitation needs. The team will offer mental health

services as well, said Director Dr. JoAnn Butrin.

"We know that this type of traumatic event leaves people

bewildered, vulnerable, and emotionally traumatized, so

our team is attuned to do active listening and to spend

time with patients and to offer prayer and spiritual care

when indicated," she said.

Assemblies of God drew their team from their existing

network of health professionals. "We offer disaster

preparedness training seminars biannually and try to

choose from individuals who have been through training

for the initial assessment team.

Later, said Butrin, volunteers may have their opportunity

to help. "Once a secure working situation is formed and a

need for ongoing personnel established, we are willing to

send in some non-experienced personnel to work alongside

those that are trained."

Caison added that a five-person Baptist assessment team

landed in Turkey yesterday, and plans to return to the

U.S. this weekend with a suggested response strategy.

"They are working with contacts on the ground in Turkey,

and talking to government officials and organizations

over there to coordinate a response," he said.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., faith-based and community

organizations are helping people search for lost loved

ones in Turkey. From individuals volunteering to serve as

interpreters to amateur radio operators volunteering for

the Salvation Army and Military Affiliate Radio System

(MARS), people's talents are being put to use.

The American Red Cross and Salvation Army both offer services to

help find family members in Turkey, and hundreds have

been able to locate loved ones. Local Red Cross chapters

are handling as many as 40 inquiries a day. But for those

who receive the sad news that their loved ones are lost,

churches and community organizations can play a key role

by offering grieving families long-term support and

counseling, said Darren Irby, Red Cross spokesperson.

The response community is still reporting that monetary

donations are the most appropriate response, since the

most urgently needed items are available locally in

Turkey. Not only is shipping less expensive, but

purchases also strengthen the local economy.

Faith-based response continues to be coordinated by the

Churches of Turkey Steering Committee for Disaster

Relief, which has been established in Istanbul.

Missionaries in Turkey from the Common Board of Global

Ministries of the Disciples of Christ and the United

Church of Christ are coordinating the church-based


Action by Churches Together (ACT), in close with the

Middle East Council of Churches, is expected to issue an

appeal in the near future for both immediate relief needs and

long-term aid. Church World Service, an ACT partner has

already issued an emergency appeal for $250,000. Medical

services and supplies are still among the most dire

needs, as is water distribution. Denominations across the

U.S. have united in an ecumenical show of support by

making cash contributions and by sending specially

trained teams of volunteers to Turkey.

The focus there has now moved from search-and-rescue to

focusing on survivors. Thousands of bodies still remain

buried under the debris.

Nearly half of Turkey's population lives in the area

affected by the quake. Thousands are sleeping outside,

many in muddy tent cities, afraid of aftershocks,

building collapses, or explosions from ruptured gas lines

and electrical cables. Tent cities are stretched

end-to-end throughout western Turkey. More than 300

aftershocks have been recorded.

The worst earthquake in Turkish history killed an

estimated 33,000 people in the eastern province of

Erzincan in 1939. Damage for this week's quake is

expected to run into billions of dollars.

Posted Aug. 25, 1999

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