Coping With Floods in the Caucasus
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN RUSSIA
LAST year in Russia’s northern Caucasus region, the amount of rain that normally falls in a three-month period fell in just two days. Dozens of rivers overflowed their banks. Even small streams became raging torrents, washing away everything in their path. Dams broke, and houses and other structures were demolished. Suddenly, thousands of residents were homeless. Many who could not get out of their homes fast enough perished. Others stood by helpless as loved ones were washed away in the raging waters.
In the city of Nevinnomyssk, a family tried to escape on their tractor. However, a wall of water overturned the tractor, and the whole family perished. Some died trying to save others. According to official estimates, 335,000 people were affected by the floods. Of them, more than 200 died and many were unaccounted for.
Tens of thousands of homes were inundated. Water lines and sewer systems were destroyed. Even buried bodies were exposed by the raging waters, including those of animals that had died from anthrax. Estimates of flood damage amounted to some 16 thousand million rubles, or about 500 million U.S. dollars.
This beautiful and fertile land, often the subject of song and poetry, was a heartrending sight! Yet, the disaster did not destroy true neighbor love.
Aid Provided Quickly
At first, there was no clean water, no electricity, no gas, no telephone communication. People lost track of one another. Over 3,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses live in the affected area, more than 700 in and near Nevinnomyssk. So as soon as reports of flooding were heard, the Witnesses formed special emergency committees to care for those affected. These committees were in action even before state rescue workers arrived.
In the little town of Orbelyanovka, about 40 miles [60 km] southeast of Nevinnomyssk, the water rose rapidly. Eight people, including two female Witnesses, took refuge on the summit of a small hill. But so did small animals and many snakes. As a result, throughout the long night, the eight people had to beat away the snakes.
By the next morning, the local Witnesses were looking for ways to reach their two stranded Christian sisters. Finally, by early afternoon, a small rubber dinghy was located. But before rescuing the sisters, the Witnesses used the dinghy to take an elderly paralyzed man to safety. Afterward, as they were taking the sisters to safety, a helicopter appeared and picked up the other people stranded on the hill.
Later that day the Witnesses in the dinghy rescued still others. When the Witnesses asked, “Do you know who we are?” the people answered: “The Ministry of Emergency Situations, of course.” They were surprised to learn otherwise.
The Witnesses in Nevinnomyssk purchased a portable kitchen and prepared hot meals for those in need. They delivered not only food but also water, clothing, and medicine. Teams of Witness volunteers also cleaned up homes and cleared debris from yards.
A Witness couple in Zelenokumsk who own a business used their vehicle to transport water, food, and clothing, which they purchased at a wholesale market. When the wife’s acquaintances asked whom her purchases were for, she explained that they were for fellow believers who had been hit by the disaster. Moved by her caring attitude, they also wanted to help. One businesswoman offered a sack of noodles, another gave a large package of soap, and others provided sacks of sugar.
Aid From Faraway Places
Since many Witnesses in Russia wanted to know how they could help flood victims, a special fund was set up for sending aid to those in need. Even volunteer workers at the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, located near St. Petersburg, helped. Some bought new items for the flood victims. One explained: “I have given my very best things because I have something, but our brothers and sisters have nothing.”
The Administrative Center also sent letters to some 150 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in St. Petersburg and Moscow, explaining how the brothers could donate money, food, and clothing. Although the economic situation in Russia leaves much to be desired and most Witnesses have little materially, their donations were generous. It was reminiscent of the giving of the poverty-stricken Macedonian Christians to their needy brothers and sisters in Judea.—2 Corinthians 8:1-4.
After the donated items had been sorted at central collection points, they were loaded onto trucks and taken to the disaster area. Besides these donated items, the Administrative Center purchased ten tons of food, 500 sets of bed sheets, and hygiene products, as well as tools and work clothes for cleaning up after the disaster. In all, six 50-ton trucks carried relief supplies to the northern Caucasus region.
Generosity Provided a Witness
The work of the Witnesses during the cleanup of the disaster zone did not go unnoticed. Consider the situation in the beautiful resort city of Kislovodsk, where there are over 300 Witnesses. They offered their services to the city administration and were given an area to clean.
On June 28 at 8:00 a.m., about 150 Witnesses, including whole families, brought their tools and assembled for work. Some had taken unpaid vacation time from their places of employment to share in the cleanup. Shortly, a car drove up, and the first vice-mayor got out. “Who are these people?” he asked.
“They are Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he was told. “They have come to clean up the city after the disaster.”
Surprised at seeing so many people, the vice-mayor said, “Good for them! Thank you! This is great!”
Later, just before lunch, another city official drove by in her car. She stopped, got out, and approached the Witnesses. “We have been observing your work, and we are just amazed,” she said. “We have never seen people work like you do. You have done so much already!”
About the same time, an elderly woman walking by stopped and asked, “Why are these people working so hard?” When she was told that Jehovah’s Witnesses were helping the city, tears welled up in her eyes. “You are true believers,” she said. “People’s true colors come out when disaster strikes.” Another woman said: “What a wonderful thing to do! I haven’t seen that in a long time.”
The next day the local newspaper Na Vodakh praised Jehovah’s Witnesses, saying that they had removed more than 100 tons of silt from the city. City officials of Kislovodsk wrote the Witnesses a letter of thanks, saying: “Your invaluable contribution restored the city to its former beauty . . . Undoubtedly, the words of gratitude from the numerous visitors to our city will be your finest reward.”
Although the natural disaster that struck the northern Caucasus region caused much loss and turmoil, Jehovah’s Witnesses were happy to show love to their fellow believers and to their neighbors. It especially brought joy to them because they know that such demonstrations of love bring glory to Jehovah, our Creator.
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Witnesses bought this portable kitchen and prepared meals for the needy
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This Witness used the family vehicle to deliver food and supplies
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Officials of Kislovodsk commended the Witnesses for helping to restore their city