India (MNN) — Cyclone Helen bore down on India’s east coast Friday.
The government evacuated hundreds of thousands of villagers and fishermen just a month after Cyclone Phailin forced another massive rescue effort.
The storm slammed into the Andhra Pradesh coast with heavy rains and strong gales. Seven people died, and there was massive damage to the crops in the coastal region. The reality is much more stark in the wake of this storm says Danny Punnose with Gospel For Asia. “The continuous rain and flooding is making the relief work difficult. Because the death rate was not very high, there’s not a lot of international attention or aid that came in.”
What makes this worse is that the advent of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillippines, coupled with the rash of tornadoes across the U.S. Midwest, means attention has shifted away from the needs in India.
Punnose says they’ve got reports from staff who are still doing relief work from Cyclone Phailin. “There are tens of thousands of people who are basically living out and camping out on the roadsides because that’s the only place that’s dry and not flooded.”
Two cyclones back-to-back plus the flooding and insufficient aid from the international community means, “People’s lives are pretty much shot. They can’t actually go back and re-start anything because there’s nothing to go back to,” especially when the issue of discrimination comes into play. Punnose explains, “Most of these people are from the Dalit background, so no one is really going to be out there to rescue them and help them.”
The schools hadn’t fully recovered from Phailin when Helen made her appearance. “Millions of children can’t go to school,” Punnose says, adding, “Some of our Bridge of Hope programs stopped or were put on hold because we can’t restart the programs when it’s all flooded.”
GFA teams have shifted into high gear now, making sure that the immediate needs are cared for in the wake of Helen. Aside from the food, shelter, and clean water needs, they will be encountering emotional trauma, too, adds Punnose. “Put yourself in the place of the people that you’re praying for. Try to imagine that you’ve lost everything and you’re just trying to survive, and you’re wondering how you’re going to find food for your kids, how you’re going to restart your life, and how you’re going to keep your family together.”
With thousands waiting for help, Gospel for Asia Compassion Services teams press on to provide relief despite the challenges. GFA pastors and Bridge of Hope children are among those in need of aid.
In one region damaged by Cyclone Phailin, about 78 GFA pastors and 1,457 families of believers have been affected by the rainfall. In other areas, about 30 homes of Bridge of Hope children are destroyed, damaged, or underwater.
With the damages mounting by the one-two punch, GFA knows it will take years to recover. They’re committed to the long haul in these areas because “that’s kind of what we see: what Christ would be doing,” Punnose notes. He says financial integrity of the ministry means that 100% of the support earmarked for relief will go to relief projects in these areas.
More than giving or going, though, Punnose says prayer support will shore up workers who are already stretched thin. “I think that’s where we need to begin by praying, ‘Lord, would You change my heart so that when I see these things, it’s not just, ‘Oh, it’s another storm in the same area,’ but that my heart would be changed and I would begin to pray, because every believer should be engaging and praying for the world.”