From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Memphis volunteers experience India quake first-hand

Date 07 Feb 2001 10:15:35

Feb. 7, 2001 News media contact: Thomas S. McAnally·(615)742-5470·Nashville,
Tenn.     10-33-71B{059}

NOTE:  A sidebar story (#060) is available for use with this story.

By United Methodist News Service*

Afraid they were experiencing another earthquake, four United Methodist
volunteers from Memphis, Tenn., were awakened at 3 a.m. Jan. 30 while
staying at Maninagar, a suburb of Ahmedabad, India. 

Panic-stricken, the volunteers soon discovered that it wasn't an aftershock
from the large quake that hit the area Jan. 26.  Instead, it was the Indian
army dynamiting a damaged, five-story building nearby.  Many bodies were
trapped inside but the army decided to blast the remainder of the building
at night when nobody was present.

The Volunteers in Mission (VIM) team included dentist Solomon Christian and
his wife Saroj and Jacqueline Little, members of Good Shepherd United
Methodist Church, and the Rev. Everett Porter a member at Christ United
Methodist Church.   
The team went to India with four goals: opening a dental clinic in Mathura,
Uttar Pradesh; visiting the United Mission to Nepal office in Katmandu;
participating in the "Hind Rattna" award ceremony where Christian was
honored and 2001 Republic Day of India parade; and repairing a 64-year-old
church building in Antroli, Gujarat.
While a crowd of many thousands in the Republic Day Parade surrounded the
volunteers Jan. 26, the killer earthquake shook India, Pakistan and Nepal.
Its epicenter was Gujarat where the team was to go the next morning. The
hardest-hit area was Ahmedabad, especially the Maninagar suburb. 
The building blasted by the army was two doors from Maninagar's Prithvi
Hotel where the team was housed.
The next morning, as the volunteers visiting the building, a young woman
showed them the exact place in the rubble where her two-year-old son was
"I was carrying my youngest son with me and my two-year-old was a few feet
behind me," she said. "We were talking and the roof fell on him, burying him
and killing him right on the spot." Pointing toward a tricycle, she added,
"We lived on the second floor and that is his tricycle."
January  is wedding season in Gujarat. Sixteen of Christian's extended
family from Memphis and Chicago were in India to participate in the
weddings. Except for the VIM team, all the visitors were in Ahmedabad. 
One of .Christian's  brothers reported that his family's two-story house
moved like a tree branch in the midst of a fiery wind. The killer earthquake
lasted for little more than 60 seconds, leveling many buildings in
Ahmedabad. All the multi-story buildings shook and many have cracks in the
All members of the Christian family escaped injury. Sophia, a niece who
lives in Memphis, her husband, G. P., and their nine-month-old son Gabriel,
felt the jerk as her bed moved from wall to wall.  Panicked, Sophia jumped
from a second floor balcony and was caught by family members.  Son Gabriel
was safe below with grandparents and her husband escaped down the stairs. 
Christian reported damage of church properties. The Methodist Church in
Nadiad, 12 miles from Ahmedabad, has cracks, one separating the church tower
and the building. A few miles south in the city of Baroda, the Methodist
Technical School has many damaged buildings. Dormitories are badly shaken
and are unsafe for occupancy. The students are sleeping in tents in an open
area. A clergyman from the Memphis Conference was one of the school's
founding missionaries.
Bishop Dinesh Kumar Agarwal, of the Bombay Episcopal Area of the Methodist
Church  in India, visited the affected area soon after the quake and called
an emergency cabinet meeting to work out the church's response.  It was
decided to observe Feb. 11 as Relief Sunday with a collection going to
relief work. 
According to the bishop, the support work will be divided into relief -- an
immediate response to the affected area; and rehabilitation --  follow-up
work on damaged property. Methodist congregations are stepping out with
funds to provide food, clothes, shelter, medicine, and hospital
transportation. The Memphis VIM team joined the cabinet for a few minutes
and made a contribution as seed money to start relief work.
Aid organizations have opened kitchens and shelters.  The VIM team members
visited one of the many kitchens providing three meals a day to many
thousands of people. They also distributed food in Vastrapur, one of the
hardest-hit areas, and contributed 2000 Rupees. 
Christian recalled sitting down to eat with the earthquake victims. "In the
midst of tragedy and great loss, there were still smiles on their faces,
telling us that no matter what happens, they will keep on going," he said.
"The Hindus, Moslems, Christians, and people of other faiths were in one
harmony, working together to help humanity in need."
The killer quake wiped out many small villages near Bhuj, a city now in
ruins. The biggest city, Ahmedabad, was the hardest-hit.  Many bodies are
still buried in the crumbled buildings,  leaving many children without
parents and many parents without children. When the VIM team visited the
area, cries to search for survivors could be heard everywhere, Christian
Buildings that remain are unsafe to occupy, so many people are homeless.
Christian said the survivors don't know where the next food will come from
or where they will spend the night. Aftershocks were occurring days after
the initial quake. People were sleeping outside and were afraid to go in
their homes.
Having direct contact with churches and the leaders of the Methodist Church
in India, Christian encourages United Methodists to give generously to the
relief work through their local churches. 
Donations to UMCOR's relief efforts in India and Pakistan can be made to
UMCOR Advance No. 274305-0, "South Asia Earthquake." Checks can be dropped
in church collection plates or mailed directly to 475 Riverside Dr., Room
330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800)
#  #  #
*Information for this story was provided by Dr. Solomon Christian,  a
Memphis dentist and active United Methodist who is president of the United
Methodist Volunteers in Mission Southeastern Jurisdiction Medical

United Methodist News Service
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