Local groups to help Haiti

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 14, 2010

Local church agencies and the local American Red Cross are reaching out to people affected by Tuesday’s magnitude-7.0 earthquake in Haiti.

For those who have survived they’re plagued with the aftermath of the natural disaster.

Dazed survivors wandered past dead bodies in rubble-strewn streets, crying for loved ones, and rescuers desperately searched collapsed buildings as fear rose that the death toll would reach staggering proportions.

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Haitian officials have predicted the death toll with exceed 100,000 people.

But, locally agencies and churches are gathering financial help for the country.

“At the present moment, we are planning on sending financial help through UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief),” said the Rev. Danny Arnold, pastor at Park Memorial United Methodist Church. “UMCOR is our denominational agency whose mission is to respond to natural disasters in the country and internationally.”

Arnold said UMCOR has ongoing work in Haiti through the Methodist Church in Haiti.

“Right now, UMCOR is requesting that only financial donations be sent for the relief, the time will come later for other types of aid and work teams to go to Haiti,” Arnold said. “Anyone wishing to give in this way can make their donation to any United Methodist Church and designate the offering for Haiti relief. These offerings will then be forwarded to UMCOR,” Arnold said.

Arnold said 100 percent of the offering goes to the relief effort.

Bush Memorial Baptist Church Youth Minister Ellis Bush said the church is currently deciding what its role will be in this.

“We are still trying to figure out what part we need to play in all of this, but we are concerned and heartbroken for the folks there,” Bush said.

However, the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM), has placed 16 trained volunteers on alert to deploy to Haiti as quickly as possible.

“We are working with Baptist Global Response and the North American Mission Board on exactly when to deploy our Alabama Baptist volunteers,” said Mel Johnson, disaster relief strategist for SBOM. “Once we have the word, they will be ready to respond promptly.”

SBOM is also expected to place its Airlift Kitchen on alert to go with the volunteers, some of whom are trained in operating the self-contained resource.

“The Airlift Kitchen can serve up to 3,500 meals a day and is designed to be transported aboard either military or commercial flights,” Johnson said. “It includes a water purification unit, cooking equipment and other hardware needed to provide safe, nutritious meals in a disaster-related setting.”

Anyone interested in giving financial support through SBOM can send checks payable to: State Board of Missions, Attention: Accounting Services, P.O. Box 11870, Montgomery, AL 36111. Checks should be marked “for disaster relief.”

Troy University’s Baptist Campus Ministries are not currently doing anything yet.

BCM minister Brad Bensinger said the group was waiting as things unfold in Haiti.

The local American Red Cross currently is taking only monetary donations, Jane Thrash, director, said.

“Anyone wanting to make a contribution to the disaster in Haiti can do so through checks or money orders to the American Red Cross and designate on the bottom for the Haiti disaster,” Thrash said.

Thrash said once the whole situation unfolds volunteers probably will do more.

Anyone who wants to sent monetary donations to the Red Cross, they can send donations to 131 S.A. Graham Blvd. Brundidge, 36010 and write Haiti earthquake disaster on the envelope.

Anyone with questions can contact Thrash at 334-536-0632.

Nationally, President Barack Obama dispatched military troops and an air and sea flotilla to speed earthquake relief to Haiti on Wednesday, and governments from China to Venezuela rushed to help with aid and rescue workers, as well.

Obama said the world’s help was critical with a “cruel and incomprehensible” tragedy.

U.S. officials were checking reports of a least three deaths of Americans in Haiti. State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said few of the estimated 45,000 Americans living in the country had been able to communicate with U.S. officials and verify they were safe and sound.

The U.S. set in motion a sweeping military response that included ships, helicopters, transport planes and possibly a 2,000-member Marine unit.

Obama put newly appointed USAID administrator Rajiv Shah in overall charge of the American effort.

He said the initial response would concentrate on search and rescue operation but would also look at longer-term humanitarian needs.

Two 72-member American urban search and rescue teams were on their way, transported by military and civilian airlift.

“The goal of the relief effort in the first 72 hours will be very focused on saving lives,” Shah told Associated Press reporters.

The American Red Cross ran out of medical supplies on the ground in Haiti, a spokesman said Wednesday. The small amount of medical equipment and supplies that were available to Haiti had been distributed, spokesman Eric Porterfield said. More were being sent, but he said he did not know when they would be arriving.

Another problem that lies ahead is the number of dead bodies scattered across the country.

The World Health Organization said it had sent specialists to help clear the city of corpses, and the International Red Cross was sending a plane Thursday loaded mainly with body bags.

Even as donations began piling up, the FBI warned Internet users to be wary of e-mail messages seeking donation in the aftermath of the quake. People who want to send money or assistance should contribute to know organizations and should be careful not to respond to unsolicited e-mails, officials said.

*The AP contributed to this story.