SBTC Disaster Relief volunteers work recovery effort on two fronts

Forty-six days after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake pummeled Haiti leaving widespread devastation and carnage in its wake, another quake hit off the coast of Chile. This one registered at magnitude 8.8. Shockwaves rocked the country, tearing cities apart and causing tsunamis to sweep down the coastline.

SBTC Disaster Relief teams responded immediately to get people on the ground after both disasters. Two days after the Chilean quake hit, SBTC representative Jim Howard was en route to Chile with a Baptist Global Response (BGR) assessment team, including personnel from the International Mission Board and the South Carolina Baptist Convention.

Getting to Santiago, Chile provided the first challenge. Santiago airport shut down and all flights were canceled. Not deterred, the team flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina and boarded a bus for the 22-hour drive through the Andes Mountains to get to Santiago.

For 10 days, the team traveled through Chile assessing the damage and the needs of the people.

“Our objective was to identify critical needs areas and formulate a plan that BGR and disaster relief could follow up on through feeding and recovery,” said Howard, pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta. “Our ultimate objective was to engage the Chilean people with the hope of Jesus Christ while we addressed their basic needs.”

Damage from the quake made travel difficult. Many roads and bridges have become nearly impassable. Aftershocks also still plague the already terrified survivors. In one night, the team counted 12 aftershocks. Despite the difficulty, the team traveled to nine cities, determining the greatest areas of need.

“At Constitución, the earthquake damage coupled with the tsunami was devastating,” Howard said. “Houses were shuffled around like dominos, and slabs where houses used to be were reminders of the enormous wave and its power.”

Disaster Relief director Jim Richardson said the team determined that the greatest areas of need in Chile were food and temporary shelter.

The assessment team returned to the U.S. on March 10. That same day, BGR’s first food distribution team arrived in the village of Llico.

As the first team left, another group came to take their place and continue the food distribution to the camps in that area.

“We have sent in two feeding teams and one more is leaving on March 25,” Richardson said. “In total we are sending in three feeding teams and one building team. In all, there are 27 volunteers going to Chile.”

By the time the first feeding team left Llico on March 19, electricity was already being restored. Once the people are able to prepare their own food, relief efforts will focus on building and recovery. The building teams will construct temporary pine-sided houses with tin roofs and slatted floors for people who have lost their homes.

The next step is to equip the Chilean churches to take leadership in the recovery efforts.


While work progresses in Chile, SBTC teams continue to serve in Haiti as well.

“We will be in Haiti for many more months,” Richardson said. “The teams there are transitioning from building assessment teams to demolition teams.”

Demolition teams will focus on cleanup, especially of local churches. Partnering with local church members, the teams will use sledgehammers to tear up concrete and prepare it for removal.

With all of the relief work in both Chile and Haiti, volunteers are always welcome. Disaster relief is providing training throughout the spring for anyone interested in getting involved.


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