Church on Oregon Coast Responds to Damage from Japanese Tsunami

March 24, 2011

On March 11, a massive earthquake struck off the coast near the Japanese city of Sendai, triggering a tsunami that devastated large parts of northeastern Japan and spread across the Pacific Ocean. Half a day later, and nearly 5,000 miles away, the tsunami wave reached the port town of Brookings, Oregon, smashing boats and destroying the commercial fishing docks. Fishing is a major source of income for people in Brookings, and while many lost their livelihoods as a result of this disaster, those who live on boats in the harbor also lost the place they call home. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, with support from Episcopal Relief & Development, is responding to the need for temporary shelter and other assistance while the docks are being rebuilt. By expanding existing programs and working through partnerships with local businesses and organizations, the church is ministering to the whole community in this time of need.

Approximately 20 “live-aboard” families were displaced from their homes when the tsunami hit the Brookings harbor. Even for families whose boats survived the wave, the port is uninhabitable without water and electricity hook-ups. Fortunately, St. Timothy’s existing relationship with a local motor lodge allowed them to secure two weeks’ lodging for these families at a discounted rate. The church also purchased bus tickets for four people who had arranged to stay with friends and relatives out of town. In addition, St. Timothy’s helped pay for five boats to be hauled out of the water for inspection and possible repair.

“The staff at St. Timothy’s did a great job identifying their strengths and assets, and using them to respond to the needs in their community,” said Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Program Manager for the US Disaster Program. “This is exactly the kind of thing we’re working to promote in congregations around the country: using the strength of existing parish outreach ministries to respond to disasters.”

The Disaster Preparedness Initiative was launched in late 2010 to encourage dioceses and congregations to plan their response to possible hazards and emergencies in their communities. A number of resources and planning tools are available in an online resource library, including a comprehensive Preparedness Planning Guide [need link here] workbook that helps congregations gather essential information and plan their first steps in responding to an emergency. The program also helps organize volunteers through diocesan and parish disaster coordinators, and the Ready to Serve database.

“Every church, even those in areas that don’t experience seasonal hazards like floods and hurricanes, should at least have a basic disaster preparedness plan in place,” said Mears. “Thinking in advance about what the congregation has to offer or what needs to be protected is incredibly helpful when time really matters. It can also be a surprising boost to discover how things churches might take for granted, like kitchens or parish halls, can be a blessing in a time of need.”

Episcopal Relief & Development is the international relief and development agency of The Episcopal Church and an independent 501(c)(3) organization. The agency takes its mandate from Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. Its programs work towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Together with the worldwide Church and ecumenical partners, Episcopal Relief & Development rebuilds after disasters and empowers people by offering lasting solutions that fight poverty, hunger and disease, including HIV/AIDS and malaria.