In Gori, relief logistics move forward

TBLISI, Georgia (BP)--When Russian troops pulled back from Gori, Georgia, Aug. 22, a Southern Baptist overseas relief team in Tblisi scrambled to assess the need for humanitarian assistance.

"The city of Gori is in overall pretty decent condition," one team member reported. "The destruction was mostly to army bases and government buildings. It seems like most homes were spared, although there were entire blocks of apartments bombed. You can see where all of the glass was gone and fires burned on the top floors."

When the team was able to get to the church building that will be their command center for relief operations, they saw that a building 100 yards away had been destroyed when the city was bombed. They were told several people died in the explosion.

Team members were able to hold an impromptu meeting with the governor of Gori on the street in the city center, the team member reported.

"We were asked to meet needs that are not being met by major humanitarian organizations," he said. "We are going to buy and deliver things such as body soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, toothbrushes and other toiletries for several thousand people."

Russian troops have pulled back to a position six miles outside Gori and continue to control access to Georgia's key port at Poti, according to the AFP news service. Russians also are manning positions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two provinces that have sought independence from Georgia. The Russians also have left "peacekeepers" in a buffer zone they created inside Georgia.

The Southern Baptist team plans to begin remodeling a building shell made available to them by a local Baptist partner. The building, which is strategically located, will be able to feed 400 people inside, and more outside, the team reported. It also will serve as housing for volunteers and eventually will provide classrooms and work space for community development projects.

"The refugees from surrounding villages whose houses were destroyed will need to be fed from this center," the team member said. "They are expecting as many as 20,000 long-term refugees here. People from the surrounding villages -– Georgian nationals living in South Ossetia -– have been burned out and banished from their homes. It is doubtful they will ever be able to return to their villages."

A seven-member team of disaster relief specialists from Texas Baptist Men was scheduled to leave for Georgia Aug. 27, with a similar team of specialists from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma following soon after, according to Jim Brown, U.S. director of Baptist Global Response, a Southern Baptist international relief and development organization. With Gori opening to relief workers, the timetable may be accelerated and the dimensions of a volunteer response enlarged.

A U.S. Navy ship carrying relief supplies has docked at Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi, about 30 miles south of Russian-occupied Poti, according to news reports. Three ships have been dispatched with cargoes of humanitarian aid for the estimated 100,000 people in Georgia displaced by the fighting.


Mark Kelly is an assistant editor for Baptist Press. Baptist Global response is located on the Internet at gobgr.org.

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