By Cindy Corell, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker in Haiti.
Largely spared by the catastrophic earthquake of January 2010, the southern peninsula of Haiti wasn’t so fortunate Tuesday morning (Oct. 4) when Hurricane Matthew slammed onto the southern shore.
By 7 a.m., the eye of the storm hit on the outer edge of Tiburon Peninsula, and by mid-day Wednesday, thousands of people had been displaced – with injuries and loss of life reported, and damage to homes, crops and transportation. Many homes lost their roofs, and some buildings were washed from their foundations. Exact numbers were difficult to pinpoint.
Hurricane Matthew continued on its way after Haiti, bashing alongside the eastern end of Cuba, then barreling toward the Bahamas. In the U.S., Florida and the Carolinas prepared for the massive storm’s arrival.
But Haiti, with 11 million residents, doesn’t have the margins to withstand much disaster. With its weak or non-existent roads and bridges, poorly constructed homes and tropical geography, a little brute force goes a long way in Haiti.
And Matthew proved that point.
Damage. Dame Marie, a small city on the tip of the peninsula sustained the worst of the storm, according to pilot Michael Broyles. A pilot based in Haiti with Mission Aviation Fellowship, Broyles flew over the region on Wednesday and reported widespread damage to homes and other structures.
As of Wednesday afternoon, seven people were reported dead, but that number is expected to rise as more reports come in. That number is remarkably low, however, considering that Hurricane Matthew is the strongest storm to hit Haiti since Hurricane Hazel in 1954 took more than 1,000 lives.
The minister of education declared that schools in the country will be closed until Monday, and Sunday’s presidential election (Oct. 9), already having been moved several times, is postponed until further notice, according to national election officials.
The true damage, Broyles reported on Facebook, is the loss of just about all crops in the affected region. In a disaster area, until relief supplies come, there will be no food at all.
The force of the storm washed out a crucial bridge on National Route 2 that runs along the peninsula, virtually cutting off road transportation. Because the southern peninsula has been hardest hit and communications are not yet in place, organizations wait for guidance as to when and where to send relief.
Emergency response. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) is preparing for response as well.
“We are closely monitoring the situation in the Caribbean,” said Luke Asikoye, associate for PDA, in an email Wednesday. “We are awaiting information from our partners once it becomes more clear.”
Nicossa Paulemont, general coordinator of the network organization Konbit Peyizan Grand’Anse (KPGA), and others in the organization have been working since the weekend preparing for the storm and helping out as needed. A lack of phone service prevented more current information Wednesday, but Action Aid Haiti reported that members of the farmer organization had moved several dozen people into temporary shelters Monday, including a number of people with disabilities.
KPGA is one of 11 grassroots organizations in the Joining Hands network in Haiti. Fabienne Jean, coordinator of the network reported that the storm destroyed most of the crops and killed a large number of livestock in the hard-hit regions.
“In an economic situation that was already very difficult, especially for peasant women,” Jean said, “this makes it even worse.” Political instability and rapidly rising inflation already have taken their toll on the people, she said. “Now, Matthew carried away the last bit of hope.”
The US Agency for International Development has deployed the USS George Washington bringing major relief supplies and carrying almost a dozen helicopters. A temporary dock also is on the way, as well as the USS Comfort, according to Haiti Libre, a Haitian newspaper.
Property. Bishop Tharpe Institute, a vocational and professional school in Les Cayes, sustained major damage, losing its roof in the storm, according to the Rev. Dr. Frantz Casséus, Canon of the Ordinary of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti.
He also reported severe damage at the Episcopal church property in Torbeck, not far from Les Cayes. The diocese still was assessing damage further west on the Tiburon Peninsula on Wednesday.
In Jacmel, a city on the southeast coast, the outer bands of Matthew lashed the shores and caused extensive property damage.
Wings of Hope is a residential home for children with disabilities. It is part of St. Joseph’s Family, a ministry heavily supported by Presbyterian churches. Renee Dietrich, director of communications and development, said Monday night and most of Tuesday brought high winds and a lot of rain. Other than water seeping under doorways, however, the facility survived without damage. Staff was limited because of the storm, but the daily operations went well, she reported. After checking out the building and assessing needs, she said she would put out a larger appeal for what is needed.
“You’ve all been so great about checking in with us and praying for us, please don’t let those concerns and connections pass now that the storm has passed,” she said in a note to supporters. “Post-hurricane Haiti needs you now more than ever.”
Want to Help?
Presbyterian Mission Agency. Those interested in supporting relief efforts should designate gifts to “Hurricane Matthew” through
Friends for Health in Haiti is a medical clinic near Jeremie, a region greatly affected by the hurricane.
St. Vincent’s Center for Handicapped Children is a residential facility and school for children with disabilities in Port-au-Prince. It is a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, a mission partner of Presbyterian Mission Agency.
Wings of Hope is a residential facility and school for children with disabilities in Jacmel, a region greatly affected by the storm.
Plant With Purpose is a ministry of accompaniment, working with farmers in Haiti and other developing countries to improve their lives and villages. It has a regional office in Grand Colline, in the southern area greatly impacted by the storm.
Little Footprints Big Steps is a program that cares for children separated from their parents because of poverty. LFBS provides transitional services to restore abused and neglected children and returns them home. It is located in Les Cayes, a city greatly affected by the storm.
Haitians Homes for Haitian Children is a program that matches poor and homeless children with families that can care for them, then provides stipends for the care, healthcare and education for the children. It’s located in Jeremie, a regional hard hit by the storm.
Living Waters for the World works with poor communities in developing countries to install and operate clean water systems. Living Waters for the World works in a number of communities in Haiti.
Medical Benevolence Foundation provides support for medical facilities in several countries, including Haiti where MBF supports Faculty of Nursing Science of the Episcopal University of Haiti and St. Croix Hospital, both in Leogane, and Darbonne Maternity Clinic not far from Leogane. These are regions heavily impacted by the storm.
by Cindy Corell. Corell has served as a PC(USA) mission co-worker in Haiti since 2013, working as the Presbyterian Hunger / Joining Hands Companionship Facilitator in Haiti.