(Photo: Steven VanHorn/Bible Center Church)
Churches and faith-based organizations immediately responded to the West Virginia chemical spill by gathering drinkable water and other basic needs by the truckloads soon after bottled water became a commodity and a state of emergency was declared last week.
Relief efforts began to pour in to the state on Friday, a day after over 7,000 gallons of the chemical known as 4-methylcyclohexane methanol was discovered in the Elk River in Charleston, W.Va., leaving more than 300,000 people in Charleston and various surrounding counties without clean water.
"Our disaster response team departed Friday with initial shipments…these included four semis [trucks] and a box truck carrying almost 200,000 pounds of bottled water and other beverages and more than 8,500 pounds of paper products, plus two of Matthew 25's disaster relief vehicles," stated Matthew 25 Ministries, an Ohio-based international aid and disaster relief organization, on their website.
By Saturday, the organization's relief team had passed out over 10,000 liters of water to the town of Dunbar after residents were only given 5,000 liters. On Sunday, the group distributed an additional 26,000 liters to three assisted living centers in the area.
The spill occurred when a tank owned by Freedom Industries, a company that manufactures chemicals used in the mining, steel and cement industries leaked excessively last Thursday, before residents reported a pungent licorice smell that enveloped various towns.
However, tests taken over the weekend revealed that compound levels were below a toxic threshold, and in some samples, there was no trace of the chemical at all. Despite the encouraging test results, residents were still warned not to use tap water for drinking, cooking, washing or bathing.
Bible Center, a megachurch congregation in Charleston, also took the initiative to help residents, although they are in need of clean water too. The church received three tractor-trailers full of bottled water and sport drinks from Christian organizations in Michigan and Virginia, which they then distributed among the congregation and community.
"At the conclusion of our worship service yesterday morning, we were able to distribute these resources to those in attendance with a two-fold purpose, to provide relief and care for our church family, but also to equip our church family to be the hands and feet of Jesus by practically providing a much-needed resource in Jesus' name throughout their neighborhoods, communities and to others they know in need," said Timothy M. Abraham of Bible Center Church to The Christian Post.
Churches states away in North Carolina have also responded to the disaster. Pastor Brent Tysinger of Rushwoood Park Church in Asheboro, N.C., told CP that his congregation was collecting enough clean water, hand sanitizer, plastic utensils, and paper plates to send in a truck as well as money. He noted that neighboring churches were doing the same.
Similarly, Virginia-based Operation Blessing International arrived in West Virginia Sunday to set up a mobile shower truck in addition to deploying a semi-trailer truck carrying over 36,000 water bottles and cases of MRE meals. The relief organization also secured a donation of three additional semi-trailer truckloads of water from Texas that will arrive by Wednesday.
In nearby Kentucky, Christian Appalachian Project, an organization that provides physical, spiritual and emotional support to residents in the Appalachia region of the East Coast, said they were among the first responders as soon as they were notified of the crisis on Thursday evening.
"We have a warehouse in Corbin, Ky., where we keep supplies and receive them continuously as needed and this is where we store water," said Robyn Renner, disaster relief director, to CP. "We already had about two semi-loads of water in the warehouse that could be loaded and transported out…we immediately sent out one semi-load to Williamson, W.Va., the following morning and was distributed as soon as it was unloaded, and I was told that it prevented a riot from breaking out."
Renner said many parents in the state are in dire need of money to buy baby diapers and formula as they have not been able to work due to businesses closing. Hand sanitizer and paper food plates are other major necessities in addition to water.
As of Sunday evening, the American Red Cross had deployed response teams from Louisville, Ky., and Dayton, Ohio, along with over 70 staff and volunteers who distributed 122,000 bottles of water. According to Erica M. Mani, chief executive officer of the West Virginia Region, the Red Cross will continue to deliver needed water until state officials deem tap water safe for use and consumption.