New Zealand Earthquake Response Concentrates on Welfare and Emotional Needs

March 01, 2011 - 6:11 PM EST
Major Christina Tyson
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New Zealand - The Salvation Army in New Zealand reports an escalation in welfare needs as a result of ongoing concerns for people affected by the devastating 6.3-magnitude earthquake that hit the region around Christchurch a week ago.

Relief agencies have expressed their appreciation for the manner in which Salvation Army officers (ministers) have approached people to defuse potentially difficult situations where they may be feeling upset or angry as a result of current circumstances.

Assisting in welfare centres at three sites and a drop-in centre, The Salvation Army supplied some 4,500 meals to approximately 1,800 people in a single day. In addition, Salvationists provided food for the Tongan community and a group at Opawa Baptist Church and are now working with families to encourage them either to return home or to find other semi-permanent housing.

Overnight, a fresh influx of reinforcements from around the country means that there are now 90 people in The Salvation Army’s psychosocial team. Twelve personnel from the two Salvation Army territories in Australia were scheduled to arrive on Monday 28 February.

Some 90 Salvation Army personnel are providing support as part of 10-man ‘suburban squads’ that also comprise representatives from the New Zealand Earthquake Commission, engineers and Christchurch City Council. The Salvation Army team members provide emotional support to residents and identify material needs – requirements for food, water and medical supplies – as well as more complex issues such as anxiety, stress, getting to a doctor, or the concerns of elderly people living in isolation.

A further 12 people, assigned to ‘flying squads’, can be brought in whenever there is a need for an intensive psychosocial response, either taking over from a person who is delayed or taking their place and moving on with the rest of the assessment team. This team made 79 visits yesterday (Monday 28 February).

Salvationists are also on hand to speak to the bereaved who attend police briefings on the missing and confirmed dead, working alongside other agencies such as Victim Support.

Friday 25 February was an extremely busy day for staff of The Salvation Army’s community ministries. At Linwood Corps (church) Community Ministries, personnel carried out 490 interviews, with food parcels provided as required. Four hundred additional food parcels delivered by 60 drivers, including volunteers from other churches, were provided to those identified as in need. Although this was slightly less than the previous day, further demand was expected to be just as high, so 800 parcels were prepared in anticipation.

As with the 2010 earthquake, The Salvation Army is receiving excellent support from its partners at World Vision, whose staff are answering calls and staffing the Army’s Christchurch headquarters at Sydenham and will provide additional call response resources at territorial headquarters in the coming week. A World Vision logistics expert is assisting in Christchurch, and a staff member with expertise in large-scale disasters is on hand at Linwood Community Ministries Centre.

Enquiries are being made to locate a larger distribution centre and more office space for several Salvation Army activities, and several corps in the South Island (particularly Nelson) are providing ‘meet and greet’ support to families who have left Christchurch.

The hastily arranged ‘Track Meet 4 Christchurch’ took place on Saturday 26 February at Wellington’s Newtown Park. In an emotionally charged atmosphere, Nick Willis was presented with his Beijing Olympic silver medal – awarded as a result of the winner being disqualified – and then recorded a sub four-minute mile. Although spectator entry to the event was free, The Salvation Army collected donations for the Christchurch relief effort.

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