On Thursday morning I received this message from Paula Rondon, a returned SLM who is doing graduate studies in England:
"I just read this news about an oil tanker explosion in South Sudan: http://www.bbc.co.uk/
Paula didn't serve in South Sudan herself, but she has taken a keen interest in all the SLMs and particularly in South Sudan, given the volatile situation there.
It was the first we in New Rochelle had heard about the incident, and it took us about a day to get some concrete news--specifically from our American SLM Ariel Zarate (Oak Lawn, Ill.), who's been serving at the mission in Maridi since the fall of 2013. She sent this e-mail to New Rochelle this morning:
"So I don't know what you have heard about the incident here but i'll update you and then feel free to pass this along to anyone else. If you have more specific questions I will try to answer them the best I can.
"First of all, we are all ok and thank God none of our children have been killed or injured. We have had many of their family members injured however. This includes the cousin of our driver and the cousins of two of our girls that board with us so keep them also in your prayers.
"So on Wednesday around 3 pm the first people started arriving to the hospital. At first it seemed like a minor but tragic incident. Within half an hour truckloads of burn victims were being rushed to our hospital. The county hospital has been closed due to renewed tensions in Maridi. We filled the beds and later the veranda covered with tarps to accommodate the victims. We later learned that two other hospitals had people taken there but ours received the most. Eventually the hospital was broken open and local medical students along with the local doctor took over care. We have almost totally run out of medicines and bandages and there was little to nothing else we could do to aid them. They remain in the county hospital at this point.
"We received over 50 burn victims suffering from 2nd to 3rd degree burns. Many have lost all of their skin on various parts of their bodies with many losing all of the skin on their entire body. It was estimated about 60 bodies were recovered with more being found. Many were burned beyond recognition with more still being burned to death immediately into ashes. It is still unclear as to what caused the fire to start. The truck was traveling and tipped over. The locals then came to steal the gasoline when the fire started. It appears that the truck had been tipped and the fuel being stolen for a few hours before the firs started. There are plenty of rumors but nothing confirmed. At this point the Red Cross has sent burn kits and are starting to evacuate serious cases. The media attention will hopefully help to get some additional aid. The greater problem of course is poor roads, lack of adequate police and municipal services and the isolation that both of those cause. None of which we can solve at this point.
"Pray for the families and the victims and for our leaders to make better decisions for our people."
We have 4 SLMs in South Sudan right now--Ariel, Kevin Kho in Juba for a year now, and Taylor McColgan and Catherine McNeal just arrived in Wau. 2 more, Colleen Burns and Manny Mendez, will leave N.Y. on Monday to help inaugurate a new SDB mission at Morobo, which is on the border with Uganda.
You can follow Kevin at http://wearecalledtoserve.blogspot.com/
Taylor at https://actionsgreaterthanwords.wordpress.com
Catherine at http://a-love-without-limits.blogspot.com
Colleen at https://missionmorobo.wordpress.com/
Please follow all of them--all of our SLMs, in fact, and the people whom they're serving--with your prayers.