Greece wildfire relief underway

Greece wildfire reliefunderway

1 October 2007

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Southern Baptist disasterrelief volunteers from five states are planning trips to Greece in the aftermathof wildfires that raged across 469,000 acres in late August, destroying morethan 100 villages and killing at least 67 people.

Teams of disaster relief specialists from Alabama, California, Kentucky, Texasand Virginia will help clean debris from the fires and cut logs for terraces tominimize erosion from autumn rains, said Terry Henderson, director of disasterrelief for the North American Mission Board, who is coordinating the teams.Agriculture volunteers, meanwhile, will help residents of mountain villagesre-establish their livelihoods where the fires destroyed olive groves, vineyardsand livestock.

Drought conditions earlier this year left the country’s fabled Olympia regionvulnerable to fire, and gale-force winds drove blazes out of control, trappingmany residents in their homes and forcing others to flee with only what theycould carry. More than 3,000 fires ravaged thousands of wooded acres during thesummer -– the worst fire disaster in decades. Greece’s national governmentdeclared a state of emergency.

“People who live in the area are destitute because the fires destroyedvirtually everything they have,” said Abraham Shepherd, area director forBaptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international development and relieforganization.

Shepherd drove back into the mountains to assess needs in remote villages thathad not received help in the immediate aftermath of the fires. He said residentsdesperately need assistance.

“Their main source of food and income is gone,” Shepherd said. “Thefires destroyed flocks of goats and sheep and the vineyards and olive trees. Itwill take seven years for new olive trees to produce their first crop. Peoplecan’t decide whether to cut back the trees and hope they re-grow next season orgo ahead and cut them down, plant new trees and wait seven years for a crop.”

Agricultural volunteers will help people make decisions like that. Others willhelp clear burned homes so residents can rebuild. Trees burned in the fires willbe cut down so the logs can be used to minimize erosion. Shepherd said the roadshe traveled are in danger of becoming impassable because of erosion. That wouldleave villages even more isolated from the help they need.

Many residents believe no one cares about their plight, Shepherd said.

“I arrived in one village and saw an older woman washing clothes byhand,” he said. “She looked at me and said, ‘So, you have come to seeour misery.’ I told her, ‘No, I have come to see your need.'”

When he explained that he wanted to connect people who care with the needs inher village, she immediately told other villagers the good news.

“The fires left a black soot that covers everything in these villages,”Shepherd said. “The people are hoping new growth will emerge from the blackdust. We are praying that Southern Baptist assistance will cause new growth intheir hearts as well.”

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