Chile (MNN) — It’s been a rough month in Chile.
01 April kicked off with an 8.2 magnitude earthquake in a northern coastal city. While there was damage, casualties were kept to a minimum due to the government evacuation precautions, safeguards, and protocols.
However, on Saturday, 12 April, a voracious fire started near the port city of Valparaiso, spread through the hills, stoked by high temperatures and strong winds. Five days later, the blaze had chewed through precious land, prompting President Michelle Bachelet to declare a state of emergency. Baptist Global Response Executive Director Jeff Palmer explains, “The fires are kind of declared ‘out.’ Really, they’re more into recovery and rebuilding right now. [There’s] not really an indication of how it started, but it destroyed almost 3,000 homes, 15 deaths, probably about 13,000 now left without housing.”
A state of emergency means the army is in control of security. The government is in charge of the main response, but churches and organizations are providing food and non-food items donated by the Chileans. Palmer says their partners were ready. “Part of this is because several years ago, we began preparing them to be able to respond to their own needs, and now we’re seeing the fruit of that.”
According to a corresponding report from the ACT Alliance, a coalition of faith-based aid groups, the affected families have lost all their belongings. ACT assessments are saying the fire destroyed 76% of the homes in the slums of La Cruz, El Litre, Las Cañas, Merced, Ramadita, Rocuant, and Mariposas.
Roughly a fifth of Valparaiso lives below the poverty line. A third of the city’s population fares little better, surviving in close-packed shantytowns. Even so, Palmer says, “People won’t leave; at least the husbands are staying there. Their fear is that if they move away, they’ll lose access to that land, and then they can’t rebuild, so many of the men are camping out in these areas.”
With so many homeless survivors, the stage of response is quickly shifting. “It’s going to be a little bit of recovery to get everybody back into adequate housing, especially now that the rains will be starting here in a couple of weeks.” That they already had training done and a team in place meant an organized, calm response to the immediacy of the crisis, Palmer adds. “Several years ago, like I said, with the earthquake, we worked alongside and trained Chilean believers how to respond and work with a certain number of groups. Those folks that we have trained are actually among some of the first responders from BGR there.”
However, the emotional trauma is surfacing now. Bachelet called on civil society and churches to provide support, especially calling on Christians to develop social support initiatives. They’re on it, says Palmer. “This is an area that you see national believers and government and people coming out to help themselves and help their fellow countrymen. This is a neat response in that we’re coming alongside and supporting. The local people are doing most of the work.”
It’s summer vacation in Chile, too, which means school is out. For the Christians connecting through the responding churches, it means manpower. “Tons of students were pouring in, helping with recovery, getting things out of homes, things that could be salvaged, feeding, and doing sandwich lines, soup kitchens, and things like that.” The vision is already in place. All the Chilean churches need is a little help with the resourcing.
As the relief projects continue, partners hope many of the city’s trouble residents will find new lives. Palmer concluded his thoughts with a call to action: “Pray for those national believers that are responding, that they would find the right places to work and that they would be bold in sharing the faith that is found in Jesus Christ.”