Compassion Services Teams Brave Storm to Reach 2,000 People

November 01, 2013

Before spearheading relief efforts last week, Compassion Services teams in Odisha, India, surveyed cyclone-affected districts, where strong winds had shattered windows, ripped down trees and electric poles and toppled electrical towers. Billboards and traffic lights lay littered across the state capital.

Over a five-day span, they fought torrential rains and high winds to give out relief packets to 2,000 families in 14 different affected locations.

“In this cyclone, I lost all my household things,” said Gayak Dutta, a recipient who lives in a town where 200 homes were destroyed. “For five days and nights, I could not sleep due to the terror of the severe cyclone. I thank [the church] for the ration packet.”

Bimala Sen, who lives in the same town, lost everything in the cyclone.

“For five days I didn’t have food to eat,” she said. “All my things were destroyed in the cyclone. Now I have this ration packet, and I will cook food and eat.”

Overall, recipients were deeply grateful to the teams for their help amid great devastation and need. One man even began crying in gratitude when the Compassion Services team gave him a packet.

Indivar Banerjee, a man who lost both his home and all his crops, declared, “Only Christians are doing social work like this.”

Please pray for:

  • The thousands of relief recipients to understand and embrace Christ’s love.
  • The Lord’s wisdom for church leaders in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh as they determine how best to continue relief efforts.
  • God to protect, strengthen and provide for Compassion Services teams so they can provide relief to thousands more people.

Relief Work to Help 2,000 Needy Families

October 28, 2013

Since Cyclone Phailin hit India’s eastern shoreline, the people living in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have faced devastation after devastation. Incessant, heavy rainfall last week flooded many villages and destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of crops.

At least 14 people have died in various rain-related incidents. Local officials fear the death toll may rise if the rain does not stop.

Many living in low-elevation areas have been evacuated and brought to emergency relief camps.

The constant downpour has also slowed down cyclone relief efforts in many areas, as roads and railways remain submerged.

“Roads in different districts along a stretch of 900 kilometers were totally battered due to heavy rains in the last five days, throwing traffic out of gear,” reported OneIndia.

With thousands waiting for help, Gospel for Asia Compassion Services teams press on to provide relief despite the challenges.

GFA pastors and Bridge of Hope children are among those in need of aid. In one region alone, about 78 GFA pastors and 1,457 families of believers have been affected by the rainfall. In other areas, about 30 homes of Bridge of Hope children are destroyed, damaged or underwater.

One pastor’s temporary church building has collapsed, while the side walls of another GFA pastor’s home have been destroyed. Flood waters have entered the houses of many believers and have engulfed one Bridge of Hope center located by the seashore.

Please pray for:

  • The rains to stop and the waters to recede so relief efforts can continue without any hindrances.
  • Those affected by the heavy rainfall, that their livelihoods may be restored and their lives protected, especially against waterborne diseases.
  • The relief teams as they minister and provide people with much-needed aid.

Families in Most-Affected Area Given Aid

October 25, 2013

Rains continue to batter the countryside of India in the aftermath of Cyclone Phailin, as hundreds of thousands of families find themselves displaced and without electricity. Recently, a Compassion Services team was able to travel to one of the districts in Odisha that was the most affected by the cyclone. They provided relief materials to 440 families.

Relief Work to Help 2,000 Needy Families

October 23, 2013

After surveying affected villages and identifying the most needy families, Compassion Services teams are preparing to distribute relief packets to 2,000 families Tuesday through Thursday in six districts of Odisha.

Relief packets include 22 pounds of rice and 2.2 pounds each of dal, sugar and salt, some tea leaves, cooking oil, a bar of bath soap and a bar of washing soap.

Weather forecasts predict more rain for the inundated state.

Additionally, correspondents reported a house church and a temporary church building in the area were damaged by the cyclone.

Please pray for:

  • No hindrances while the teams minister and provide aid.
  • The Lord’s help for continued relief efforts.

Heavy Rain Torments Country Recovering from Cyclone Phailin

October 18, 2013

Heavy rains caused by Cyclone Phailin have killed 15 people and damaged the homes of 95 believers in the Indian state of Bihar. Strong winds and uprooted trees also caused power outages lasting up to 36 hours in several districts.

Dakshina Nadig, a regional pastor in Bihar, reported the death of one believer’s 7-month-old daughter due to exposure to the severe cold, wind and rain. Nine Gospel for Asia pastors’ homes collapsed from the extreme weather, and other affected believers are staying with friends, in schools or in makeshift tents made from tarps.

In Andhra Pradesh, a GFA Compassion Services team performed its first survey of the initial damage from Cyclone Phailin in several villages, discovering many destroyed homes, crops and power lines. A seashore village reported the loss of more than $16,000 worth of nets, boats and dry fish.

In one village, the government evacuated nearly 2,000 residents after shutting down power as a precaution. Now that most of the village’s electricity poles and transformers have been lost, however, locals will have to wait more than 20 days for electricity to be restored.

Please pray for:

  • Wisdom and provision for our Compassion Services teams as they provide relief among these villages.
  • Restored power in all affected districts.
  • Comfort for those who have lost loved ones.
  • A swift recovery for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods.
  • Many to learn of Christ’s love in the midst of their sufferings.

Photos of Cyclone's Devastation

October 17, 2013

First Relief Team on Site Finds Destroyed Homes, Livelihoods

October 15, 2013

After traveling 12 hours, a Gospel for Asia Compassion Services team arrived in a coastal town in Odisha, India, to find destroyed mud homes, broken fishing boats and nets, and many people filled with despair. Cyclone Phailin has left more than 500,000 people homeless, according to Odisha state officials.

“People were sitting on the roadside with sad looks,” said GFA pastor Alok Peter. “Many of the people say, ‘Nobody helps us,’ and ‘Even the government could not help us in time.’ In fact, we were the first people to reach [this place] and take a survey.”

Peter’s team had left for the town at 6 a.m., but fallen trees and sections of road filled with up to 2.5 feet of water forced the team to stop a dozen times. By the time they arrived, it was already 6 o’clock in the evening.

Besides halting traffic, fallen trees and strong winds have damaged many power lines. The only electricity in this area comes by generator for a few hours at a time. Some predict it will take more than a month to repair the downed lines.

Like their neighbors, believers in the surrounding villages lost most, if not all, of their belongings, and many farmers lost their livelihoods when the storm damaged more than 1 million acres of crops across the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

Villagers are repairing or rebuilding their homes during the day and returning to relief camps each night, but the villagers were still in the area when the team arrived.

“When we visited them, actually, our believers were crying,” Peter said. “They were sad, but on the other hand, they were happy that their church people visited to see them in their difficult situation. They said, ‘Our church people came to see us. That itself is a great comfort for us.’”

The government has guaranteed food for three days, but villagers worry about what will happen afterward.

“The people look very helpless, and their main problem is that nobody helps them on time,” Peter said. “Our main concern is to help them with some food and shelter when we visit these places.”

Peter’s team will visit relief camps next, as well as an affected church. Meanwhile, the need for relief continues to grow as floods resulting from Cyclone Phailin have stranded more than 200,000 people.

Please pray for:

  • Safe and quick travel for our Compassion Services teams as they seek to provide relief to victims.
  • Provision for our teams’ needs and the needs of those they are helping.
  • Comfort and encouragement in the Lord for the believers affected by this storm.
  • Many to understand and receive Christ’s love through our teams’ efforts.
  • Safety for those affected by floods and wisdom for the military personnel working to rescue them.

Cyclone Phailin Kills 17, Affects 9 Million

October 13, 2013

After 13 hours of terror, Cyclone Phailin, the strongest storm to hit India in 14 years, was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, leaving in its wake 17 dead and 9 million people affected.

“One of our believers died today,” Gospel for Asia pastor S.E. Quamar said, explaining how the 30-year-old widow had been trying to save her household items when a wave threw her against a rock. “She fell down on the stone and died on the spot. She has one daughter who is 15 years old.”

Despite the heartache for 17 families, the low death toll is a marked triumph for government officials who put on one of the largest evacuation efforts in India’s history.

Voluntarily or by force, nearly 1 million people were evacuated in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha in hopes of avoiding a repeat of Odisha’s 1999 cyclone, which killed 10,000 people.

“It is a huge, huge relief,” Odisha’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik told CNN-IBN. “Damage has been minimal.”

Still, officials acknowledge that rehabilitation will be a significant challenge. Electricity has been turned off in 12 Odishan districts and may take a week to turn on again, and communications are severely limited.

With many roads either collapsed or blocked by trees, officials are still waiting to see the extent of the damage along the coast. Some estimate 236,000 homes are damaged.

In Odisha, Gospel for Asia correspondent Ibhya Lall said more than 4,000 believers were affected by Cyclone Phailin.

“More than 500 believers’ mud houses were damaged, and they lost their household things and animals,” Lall said. “They do not know what their future will be. Most of our believers are depending upon agriculture. They have lost so many acres of agricultural crops.”

Intense monsoon rains this summer had brought an increase in the two states’ regular rice crop, but now more than 1 million acres of agricultural fields have been destroyed. As two of India’s greatest producers of rice, the damage will likely affect the rest of the nation’s food supply.

Meanwhile, threats of flooding brought by heavy rains loom over Nepal and the Indian states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, east Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Sikkim. In one Jharkhand district, officials evacuated 1,000 villagers on Sunday.

With the government’s support, GFA Compassion Services teams plan to provide relief in as many affected areas as possible.

Please pray for:

  • Protection as heavy winds and rains continue to batter India and Nepal.
  • God’s grace, mercy and provision for the 9 million people affected by Cyclone Phailin so far.
  • Clear paths for residents to return to their villages and relief workers to help them.
  • Good health and safety as evacuees hold close quarters in relief camps.
  • God’s guidance and wisdom for government officials and for our missionaries as they reach out to those affected.

Cyclone Phailin Hits India after 500,000 Evacuate

October 12, 2013

Around half a million people had fled the coasts of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha as Cyclone Phailin made landfall in India on Saturday night. Three people have already been killed by heavy winds.

“We have taken a zero-casualty approach,” said Odisha state disaster manager Kamal Lochan Mishra. “If people do not move, force will be used to evacuate them.”

Despite warnings over loudspeakers, radio and television of a storm comparable to the United States’ Hurricane Katrina, some locals were still hesitant to leave their fishing boats and homes.

“We have been hearing about the cyclone on the radio for the last two days,” Ms. Das told the Wall Street Journal. “We didn’t want to leave our things at home because we were worried they could get stolen. But the rain is so much stronger today that we decided to risk it.”

In one Odisha district, 50 Gospel for Asia pastors and 3,000 believers retreated to relief camps. Pastor Alok Peter reported 100 homes destroyed in one village, but much greater damage is expected. A pastor in Andhra Pradesh said most people in his region have lost their homes.

Even after clearing the coast in one of the largest evacuations in the nation’s history, an estimated 12 million remain in the path of the storm, which measures 1,500 miles, or roughly the distance between New Hampshire and Miami.

As it approaches, Cyclone Phailin has weakened, making it less powerful than the 1999 Odisha cyclone, which killed 10,000 people, and government officials are confident their efforts will save thousands of lives. Still the storm is expected to continue bringing storm surges and heavy rainfall for the next two days, which pose serious dangers.

Two of the first three people killed were hit by falling trees, and a third was killed when her mud house collapsed. Flooded roads will likely make finding outside help impossible for many.

“In a storm of this magnitude, there is the potential for widespread damage to crops and livestock in the low-lying coastal areas and houses completely wiped away,” Kumal Shah, head of World Vision’s Indian emergency response team, told The Guardian.

“Please pray for this situation,” said GFA pastor S.E. Quamar. “May the Lord protect them and keep them safe.”

Please pray for:

  • Protection of each person in the storm’s path, whether in a shelter or still on their way.
  • Continued guidance and wisdom for government officials and all seeking to provide relief and rescue from the storm.
  • God’s peace to reign in the hearts of believers affected by the storm.
  • God to show His love to the people of India in the midst of this crisis.

Over 260,000 Flee Severe Cyclone Phailin

October 11, 2013

Approximately 260,000 people evacuated to higher ground Friday as a cyclone, nearly half the size of India, approached the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha (formerly known as Orissa). It is predicted to hit land on Saturday.

Meteorologists are assessing Cyclone Phailin, whose wind speeds are reaching 130-135 mph, to be on par with the United States’ Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and slightly stronger than the 1999 Odisha cyclone, which killed 10,000 people.

Residents of affected districts rushed to buy groceries and gasoline for the next seven days while the government stocked 280 cyclone shelters and converted 10,000 concrete schools into temporary shelters.

“No one will be allowed to stay in mud and thatched houses in the coastal areas,” Surya Narayan Patra, Odisha’s state revenue and disaster management minister, told the Associated Press.

Cyclone Threatens 200 Congregations

In the two states, Gospel for Asia has a combined six Bridge of Hope centers, 200 churches and 150 pastors and missionaries, which represent many more believers whose homes and livelihoods will likely be destroyed.

“One of the Bridge of Hope centers is close to the seashore,” said Gospel for Asia pastor Wajid Raghavan. “Mostly the fishermen stay there. Most of our Bridge of Hope children are their children.”

Along Odisha’s coast, observers reported 10-foot waves as state officials issued warnings over loudspeakers, television and the radio to evacuate. Despite the warnings, fishermen remained in their boats, hoping the storm would pass.

Across the coastlands, thousands of farmers also continued working diligently, heeding a call from the Indian Meteorological Department director general to “harvest if their crops are ready, to bundle the crops together to minimize the damage or to drain out any water stagnating in their fields.”

Cyclone Phailin is predicted to damage hundreds of thousands of acres of crops, including rice, of which Andhra Pradesh and Odisha are some of the country’s greatest providers.

GFA, Government Plan Relief Efforts

In GFA’s field offices, missionaries are already preparing to survey affected areas after the storm hits so they can provide appropriate relief.

“After doing the survey of the damage,” said GFA pastor Alok Peter, “we will know their basic needs so we can maximize our help to them. ... Then we will form relief teams locally. We can get the rations in the vehicle and go to the places with the permission of government officials. We plan to do it as soon as possible, at least within a week.”

The National Disaster Response Force sent 42 teams to carry out further evacuations as well as rescue and relief missions, and the defense minister has told the nation’s three military branches to prepare for any situation.

Helicopters wait in neighboring West Bengal to drop relief packages in remote areas. This state, along with the state of Jharkhand, is expecting heavy rain as a result of the storm.

In light of the storm, electricity workers on strike in Andhra Pradesh temporarily called off their strike to return power to millions and properly equip the area for a disaster.

Please pray for:

  • Cyclone Phailin to either turn away or greatly lessen in intensity.
  • Protection of the people in coastal areas, including our fellow believers and the families of Bridge of Hope children.
  • Good health and peace as evacuees begin their stays in crowded shelters.
  • Wisdom, provision and safety for our Compassion Services teams and other relief teams as they prepare to provide relief.
  • Guidance for India’s government officials as they organize massive evacuation, rescue and relief efforts.
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