SAN MARCOS, Guatemala (BP) -- Dozens of people are dead and hundreds homeless after a powerful earthquake hammered Guatemala's Pacific coast the morning of Nov. 7. Baptist Global Response partners are evaluating the damage and the need for a relief effort.

So far, 71 people are known dead or missing and presumed dead and 620 people have taken refuge at government shelters in San Marcos and Quetzaltenango, reported David Brown, who with his wife Jo directs BGR work in the Americas.

"Guatemala's Civil Defense, Red Cross and the armed services have mobilized well," Brown said. "The government has opened 34 relief centers to distribute relief supplies, and donation centers are being established at businesses throughout the country to receive donations. Highways to the affected areas are open for emergency vehicles, and 140 tons of food and supplies have been dispatched to the affected areas. It appears the country has sufficient resources to respond."

An estimated 500 houses in San Marcos and San Pedro were damaged or destroyed in the magnitude-7.2 quake, which was followed by 60 aftershocks overnight, Brown said. President Otto Perez Molina has declared three days of national mourning for the victims.

The earthquake struck while Guatemala Baptists were holding their annual meeting in the capital. Several Baptist leaders left immediately to assess damage in the area, which is about five hours from Guatemala City, Brown noted.

COBAD (the Guatemala Baptist Convention's disaster relief committee) will provide guidance to churches for responding to the disaster once the assessment is completed, Brown said. BGR has no plans at the moment to request assistance from the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Network, many of whose members currently are engaged in stateside relief efforts following Hurricane Sandy's devastation of the northeastern United States.

Guatemala's COBAD, which Brown helped establish and train in 2005, is a good example of BGR's emphasis on building the capacity of local Baptists to respond to disasters, said Pat Melancon, BGR's managing director of disaster response.

"Baptist Global Response focuses upon enhancing local community-based disaster response mechanisms that enable the affected population to respond effectively, quickly and within their own means," Melancon explained. "Flooding a disaster affected area with outside assistance -- whether in terms of volunteers or funds -- can create dependency and cripple future community-based disaster responses. While it is good to know BGR has a very active group of willing volunteers available in the U.S., the judicious deployment of those volunteers is the key to the long-term health of disaster affected communities."

For assist Southern Baptist overseas disaster relief efforts, donations can be made to the International Mission Board's General Relief Fund. Visit www.imb.org, click on the "Give" tab and select "Funding human needs." Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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