By BosNewsLife News Center
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI (BosNewsLife)– Churches and missionary workers were trying to respond to Haiti’s worst earth quake in centuries that officials said may have killed up to half a million people, including the the Roman Catholic archbishop of Port-au-Prince, other Christians and United Nations personnel.
“The cathedral, the archbishop’s office, all the big churches, the seminaries have been reduced to rubble,” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the apostolic envoy to Haiti, told the Vatican news agency FIDES.
The body of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, 63, was found in the ruins of his office, said Reverend Pierre Le Beller of the Saint Jacques Missionary Center in Landivisiau, France.
He told The Associated Press (AP) news agency that fellow missionaries in Haiti had told him they found Miot’s body.
Haitians were also seen piling other bodies along the devastated streets of their capital Wednesday, January 13, including children.
The earthquake flattened the president’s palace, the cathedral, hospitals, schools, the main prison and whole neighborhoods, reporters on the scene said.
President Rene Preval said he believes thousands were killed in Tuesday afternoon’s magnitude-7.0 quake, and the scope of the destruction prompted other officials to give even higher estimates.
Leading Sen. Youri Latortue told the AP that 500,000 could be dead, although he acknowledged that nobody really knows.
The quake struck at 4:53 p.m local time and was centered 10 miles (15 kilometers) west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of only 5 miles (8 kilometers), the U.S. Geological Survey said. USGS geophysicist Kristin Marano called it the strongest earthquake since 1770 in what is now Haiti.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit, expressed condolences and solidarity with the people of Haiti, and his organization said partner churches were already involved in the relief efforts.
Officials with Action by Churches Together (ACT), a global alliance of churches and related agencies “working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide”, reported that member churches are already involved in responding to the earthquake.
“The ACT secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, is now coordinating a global response to the catastrophe,” WCC told BosNewsLife in a statement.
In the United States the Christian Emergency Network (CEN), which was founded after the September 11 terror attacks, said its partners were trying to ship in communication equipment and other aid packages to the area.
“We are aware of at least one U.S. short-term mission group currently in Haiti from a Minnesota church,” CEN founder Mary Marr told BosNewsLife.
“They find themselves in a unique situation to be a great spiritual influence. Add, several international response organizations are getting survival kits and emergency health efforts [are] underway,” Marr added.
She said her organization has urged its supporters to, “Pray for these…and allow God to prompt you as to how best to help.”
The earth quake was expected to add to misery in the poorest nation of the Western Hemisphere, where people still cope with previous disasters.
In 2004 over more than 3,000 people died because of Hurricane Jeanne which passed over the northwest city of Gonaives. This same area was hit again in 2008 when four tropical storm systems passed through the region.
In 2004 political instability led to the ousting of the President Jean-Baptiste Aristide. And in November 2008, a school collapse which was blamed on poor construction killed 90 people. Nearly 80 percent of Haitians live in poverty, according to church estimates.
“The people of Haiti should now experience the prompt support and help from others,” Tveit said early Wednesday, January 13. “Also through the work of the ACT Alliance there will be given support as expression of the actions of churches together worldwide.”
“Let us keep our member churches in Haiti and all affected by the earthquake in our prayers and thoughts,” he added. (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos and reports from Haiti). Follow BosNewsLife via Twitter.
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