Somerset: Samaritan's Purse deploys UK disaster response team to flood victims
Skills normally deployed by Samaritan's Purse on the international aid and relief scene have proved invaluable for local church volunteers helping Somerset communities hit by the floods ...
Samaritan’s Purse, the international Christian Disaster Relief specialist has deployed its first ever UK-based disaster response team, providing vital help to flood victims in Somerset.
As much of the South West of England was battered by torrential rain throughout the winter, causing widespread power cuts, road closures and significant damage to homes, Samaritan’s Purse quickly assembled a team of local Church volunteers to help those most affected by the disaster.
Over the past few weeks Samaritan’s Purse has mobilised local Church volunteers in countless acts of compassion in local communities, helping families who were traumatised by the disaster.
One story of the kind of trauma families faced was when a husband, wife and their son were forced to swim for their lives in the darkness.
The family had only just moved into the area, and decided to wait and protect their home. But they were hit with a sudden torrent into their house. That night after swimming for safety, they turned up at the doorstep of a local pub completely drenched, in desperate need of somewhere to stay. The landlady kindly took them in and cared for them, which is a typical example of the kind of community spirit in this area.
“Samaritan’s Purse is one of the world’s largest and quickest responders to disasters internationally in places like the Philippines, South Sudan and Haiti, but we’ve never worked in the UK before. However our staff and volunteers were so moved by the situation in Somerset that we decided to evaluate if this was a situation where we could give assistance,” explains Samaritan’s Purse UK Head of Operations and Logistics, Ian MacLeod.
He added: “When the water was at its highest we began meeting with the police, local authorities and local churches to explore how we could help. It became clear that we could offer basic mud-out, which involves clearing the debris, helping homeowners to sort their belongings, to provide labour and to deal with the first level of intervention.”
Since then, Samaritan’s Purse has been working closely alongside several local churches primarily assisting some of the most vulnerable people whose homes weren’t fully insured and helping clear their badly damaged gardens.
“It’s heartbreaking to see people who’ve lost very personal items. So we’re helping them to sort and sift them into which items are to be skipped and which items can be restored. Imagine those items covered in water, mud and slime.
“Garden furniture has appeared from other people’s gardens as well as a lot of logs and debris and silt which has come from rivers and fields and a lot of refuse. A lot of that is also contaminated by sewage and garden fertilisers and oil which have been spilled. It’s a physical task that has to be done.”
As Samaritan’s Purse volunteers complete their help for many of the flood victims, opportunities have arisen to pray with a number of people.
“Alongside this is the relational side, an opportunity to stop and talk to people, to understand their stories, their points of need and where appropriate to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them if people ask why we’re doing this and on some occasions to offer them a free Bible.
“One lady was overwhelmed by the friendliness and love that we showed to her. She had been wanting to know God better and at the end prayed to receive Jesus into her heart and ask for forgiveness of her sins, which she did freely.
“A few days later she came to church with us and said to us afterwards that she’d been to church many times, but this time was different. This time there was something inside her as this new relationship with Jesus has made a big difference in giving her hope and assurance.”
As Samaritan's Purse concludes their first phase response in Somerset at the end of this month, Ian concluded with his thoughts towards the future: "We're so privileged to have seen such an impact from our first ever disaster response in the UK, and we'll now be assessing and learning from our experience here, to see how we can continue to respond to situations like this in the future."