A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the northern coast of Ecuador April 16, killing more than 240 people and injuring more than 2,500 people. According to Ecuador’s seismological institute, more than 135 aftershocks have been felt.
In Japan, at least 42 people have been killed and more than 150,000 people have been evacuated from their homes following a series of deadly earthquakes that have struck Kumamoto since April 14. The strongest earthquake, which measured 7.3, struck the area April 16.
Franklin Ishida, director for Asia, ELCA Global Mission, said all 10 ELCA mission personnel are safe. He described Kumamoto as the center of Lutheranism in Japan with five Lutheran congregations, two Lutheran middle/high schools, one college and several social ministry agencies.
Ishida said that people who live in Japan are taught how to respond to earthquakes by immediately turning off gas and electric breakers and taking cover under a table.
“All of our missionaries did this,” said Ishida, “but they spoke about not being able to stand up, things falling and breaking around them. The fact they took steps to keep themselves safe is most important.”
“This is the strongest (series of) earthquakes since the earthquake disaster in northern Japan five years ago,” said Ishida. “While we know the Japanese government is taking quick action to respond to this earthquake, the churches and Lutheran schools will certainly be gathering points for people in their communities and members will be part of reaching out to provide whatever assistance needed.”
In the aftermath of the April 16 earthquake, the Rev. Yoichi Sugimoto from Kumamoto Lutheran Church said, “I was able to hold back a dresser from falling over. But the books on my shelves are all over the place.”
Sugimoto said “everything was fine” following the first earthquake, which had a 6.5 magnitude, but the situation changed following the larger earthquake on April 16. “Since then, I’ve been working with the fire department to accompany elderly people from their homes to the local park, an evacuation location.”
Katie Narum Miyamoto, an ELCA missionary, wrote in a newsletter report, “Many of the church buildings sustained damage. The churches that didn’t are serving as evacuation centers. Kengun Lutheran Church, where I serve, is the latter. About 20 people are getting meals and sleeping in the sanctuary on the floor. It also serves as an information center for those without internet.”
To help those affected by the earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan, Lutheran Disaster Response is gathering information from ELCA companion churches and partners and will provide assistance to those in need.