DALLAS (ABP) — Disaster-relief volunteers from Texas Baptist churches are slated to leave the United States Jan. 9 bound for Iran, where they will spend two weeks meeting the needs of people left homeless and hurting after a massive earthquake.
A quake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale rocked the city of Bam the morning after Christmas. Some reports said it left 60 percent of the city in rubble, while others said 78 percent of the city was destroyed. Officials estimated the final death toll could top 30,000.
Baptist relief volunteers are working under the auspices of established non-governmental organizations recognized in the region. The Texas Baptists include volunteers with experience in various aspects of disaster relief.
This is at least the second group of Baptist relief workers to respond to the earthquake. Another group of U.S. volunteers from five states was en route to the area, the International Mission Board said Dec. 31.
The earthquake relief has sparked an unusual level of cooperation between the governments of Iran and the United States, which some observers say could foreshadow a thaw in that relationship.
Texas Baptists have been involved in disaster relief in Iran before. In 1991, they took the lead in setting up field kitchens in Kurdish refugee camps after Operation Desert Storm. Those volunteers were the first evangelical Christians to enter Iran since the hostage crisis following the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Meanwhile, Baptist World Aid, the relief and development agency of the Baptist World Alliance, also has been providing medical assistance in the Bam area.
Sandor Szenczy, president of Hungarian Baptist Aid, the lead agency coordinating the international Baptist response, said more than 1,500 children in the area lost their parents.
In a report distributed by Baptist World Aid, Szenczy described the scene in Bam: “A few houses lost only two or three walls, and the remaining part looks like a theater stage, with the clocks ticking on the wall and the refrigerator's open door showing the vegetables and milk inside.
“Most of the survivor inhabitants fled to other areas of the country. Those who stayed tried to warm up by a fire and slept in tents provided by the international relief organizations. Everybody wears a dust mask on the streets, and we can see the horror of the tragedy in the eyes.”
Even the city's airport has been turned into a makeshift hospital, he said.
“Everywhere we looked, injured and wounded people tried to get treatment, and those who already received it were lying on beds. However, the patients with the most serious injuries were being flown to other cities. After arrival, our doctors and nurses immediately started to treat those who came to us,” Szenczy reported.
Baptist medical-relief workers set up a clinic in tents pitched under palm trees in a park. More than 200 people received treatment at the “Baptist hospital” within the first few days, he noted.
“Some of them were badly injured. Some of them suffered from pneumonia or cold because at nights the temperature fell below minus 8 to 10 degrees Celsius,” Szenczy reported. “One day, our team was also asked to go to two villages nearby Bam because survivors were found there, and there were not enough doctors to provide medical care, and the medications were not sufficient either.”
— Ken Camp is the managing editor of the Baptist Standard of Texas.