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Robin Huebner, Published March 20 2013

Robin Huebner Reports: Donations sought for Fargo priest’s mission after flood in Peru

FARGO – As the valley prepares for spring flooding, an impoverished parish half a world away – led by a North Dakota priest – is dealing with water trouble of its own.

Two of the 15 barrios or neighborhoods in Chimbote, Peru, served by the Rev. Jack Davis were devastated by torrential rains over the weekend.

Many homes in Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish were destroyed. They’re merely shacks made out of woven reeds, or estera, and in some cases, even cardboard.

The rain fell on the desert city overnight Saturday into Sunday, catching people off guard.

“Many of them don’t have electricity, so they were in total darkness with roofs falling in on their heads, and small children inside,” said Susan Trnka, executive director of Friends of Chimbote, a nonprofit in Fargo that supports Davis’ parish.

Trnka said Davis called it the worst rain he has seen in his 38 years in Peru. She said 115 families so far, many of them multigenerational, have been identified as needing new homes.

In each one of those homes, “There could be anywhere from four to 10 people living under one roof,” Trnka said, making it difficult to estimate how many people were affected.

The parish has put together an emergency response plan, going door to door to assess the needs.

Davis, known affectionately by parishioners as Father Jack, has been unable to assist physically with the effort. He was hospitalized last week for worsening back pain, brought on by an injury suffered last fall while unloading parish supplies from a container ship.

According to Trnka, Davis has also needed nebulizer treatments recently for a bad respiratory infection.

“That adds to the stress because he wants to be out there helping,” said Trnka. However, Davis is recovering and able to preside over morning prayers and Mass.

Friends of Chimbote has sent some emergency funds for the rebuilding effort.

Trnka said it will cost about $1,400 per home for building materials and labor. That puts the preliminary dollar amount for rebuilding alone at $160,000.

“We have people out fixing roofs as we speak,” she said.

In addition, funds will be needed to replace household goods, including beds, furnishings and clothing soaked by muddy water. With no electricity or running water, there’s no way to clean or quickly dry anything out.

The heavy rains also damaged parish chapels, libraries and a teen activities center. However, the priority is getting roofs over people’s heads.

Trnka says she thinks people here will dig deep to help, knowing hundreds of people in Chimbote will sleep at night on a soggy mattress or muddy floor.

“So many people have said the new pope has inspired them to give,” Trnka said. “Pope Francis is telling us we are called to serve the poor, whether they’re in their own backyards or thousands of miles away.”

How to help:

To donate, go online to www.friendsofchimbote.org or call (701) 364-0162. Donations can be mailed to Friends of Chimbote, P.O. Box 717, West Fargo, ND 58078