When Tim Gates saw the heart-stopping images of the post-tsunami carnage, like so many of us, he wished he could help. Now, thanks to his co-workers at North Kitsap Fire and Rescue...
When Tim Gates saw the heart-stopping images of the post-tsunami carnage, like so many of us, he wished he could help. Now, thanks to his co-workers at North Kitsap Fire and Rescue, where he oversees emergency medical services, he’s getting the chance.
The former Army nurse volunteers as a disaster-relief medic with Northwest Medical Teams, but when the agency called to see if he could join one of its missions to South Asia this week, he didn’t know if he could afford it.
The 47-year-old father of three spent all his vacation time volunteering in clinics in Sudan in September.
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So fellow firefighters and medics chipped in their vacation time to cover him. He flies to Indonesia on Sunday.
Northwest Medical Teams and other humanitarian-relief agencies in this region began shipping supplies and relief workers to South Asia’s tsunami-stricken regions this week. Their efforts have been bolstered by record donations from around the region and the rest of the world.
Participants included a five-member C-17 crew from McChord’s 62nd Airlift Wing scheduled to leave Yokota Air Base, Japan, last night to support relief efforts in Thailand.
Mercy Corps, a Portland-based global-relief agency, has received more than $5 million in donations, including $1 million just yesterday. Previously, its highest daily total was $96,000 for the Bam, Iran, earthquake last year.
“This outpouring is unprecedented,” Mercy Corps spokesperson Susan Laarman said.
The agency received $500,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, part of $3 million the Seattle-based foundation has given to tsunami-relief efforts.
Mercy Corps has 16 global-emergency experts scouting the hardest-hit areas, including Banda Aceh, on the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, to figure out what supplies and help are most desperately needed.
The agency is using donations to purchase medical supplies, food, filtration systems and chlorine bleach for water, and plastic sheeting for temporary shelter and body bags.
Northwest Medical Teams, which has offices in Bellevue and Portland, has already sent two five-member teams, one to Thailand and another to Sri Lanka.
Dr. Wilbur Springer, a semi-retired West Seattle internist, left yesterday for a monthlong trip to Sri Lanka. Like his teammates, he carried a 55-pound duffel bag stuffed with medical supplies — from anti-malarial drugs to feeding tubes to electrolyte powder to treat dehydration.
“We’re too late to help so many people,” Springer said. “But the public-health issues are just starting, and we can help prevent the worst epidemics.”
Uplift International, a Seattle nonprofit whose mission is to make health care a basic human right in Indonesia, also jumped into disaster relief.
The agency already partners with the Indonesian Doctors Association. It has been gathering about 7 tons of medical supplies, including antibiotics, painkillers, syringes, bandages and anti-diarrheal medication, to send to makeshift clinics. FedEx is shipping the cargo for free.
Within hours of the disaster, two other local agencies, World Concern and World Vision, had relief workers on the ground helping to quell the chaos.
World Vision, based in Federal Way, has more than 5,000 workers permanently stationed throughout Asia, most of them natives. The agency maintains warehouses of disaster-relief supplies.
World Concern of Seattle is smaller, with about three dozen staffers in the tsunami regions, but its mission is the same. It has distributed food, water, children’s clothing and other items, and expects its work to go on for “as long as it takes,” said Kelly Miller, director of relief.
Both agencies see their work as much more than disaster relief — they try to build the local economy, as well. While flying in supplies is sometimes necessary, they hire local people and buy local goods whenever possible.
That also allows a quicker response.
World Vision spokesman Dean Owen said his agency got a call from someone in Maine who offered his chain saw to help clear debris — a nice gesture, Owen said, but impractical, given the time it would take to fly the saw overseas.
“I think it’s important that people understand the enormity of the disaster and understand what it takes to respond quickly,” he said.
So far, that message seems to be getting out. World Vision has raised $5.4 million, and “it’s not letting up,” said Steve Quant, a spokesman for the agency.
In one phone call yesterday, a couple from California pledged a substantial donation, and their 5-year-old daughter said she’d give her Christmas money: $5.05. “That $5.05 means as much to us as a $100,000 gift,” Quant said.