Earthquake Follow-up #1

Dear friends and supporter of Haitian Connection,

It has been a full week now since a 7.2 magnitude Earthquake struck the southwestern part of Haiti, leaving much damage and loss of life in its path.

The country was already facing a food security crisis, compounded by high fuel prices, and the closing of transportation corridors that connected the South to Port au Prince, which were closed off due to fighting in Martissant and surrounding areas. Emergency support efforts are thus compounded by the intersection of these other, pre-existing crises, draining resources and creating insecurity for the delivery of assistance. 

Jeremie in particular has been hard to reach, and in addition, the one bridge in and out of Jeremie has been declared unsafe as a result of the earthquake (it was not in good shape prior to it). This makes deliveries of goods and services very difficult (see Fr. Rick’s report below on the difficulties of getting goods to Jeremie). But the Jeremie airport is open and so is the wharf. While the earthquake flattened and damaged homes and left many people traumatized, the damage in the countryside and small communities where Haitian Connection works has been severe. Houses of worship like churches and voudou temples have been destroyed. These are places that people would flock to in emergencies. Now that is gone. I was talking to the priest in our partner community of Jean Bellune, and this is what he said:

“Physically I am fine, but I have a huge trauma after what happened. Until now we still have some aftershock. 
In Jeremie the situation is very difficult, especially in the downtown area, which sustained a lot of damage. The major problem now is the bridge, for now, because cars can’t cross to go or come to Jeremie. But goods become difficult to buy and the prices are skyrocketing . We can’t buy what we need because the road was closed after the earthquake. The mountains were shaking so much that much of the roads have been destroyed.
Where I am, the situation is worst because in the countryside we don’t have the same consideration as in the city. The houses are completely destroyed. The people are completely abandoned to the themselves. So it’s very hard for me because I can’t really do anything to help them. In my parish it is the same situation. Every single house is destroyed one after one. One day later the hurricane Grace came with a lots of winds and rains. So we can’t protect nothing. I spend 3 nights sleeping in the car. Some people came to overnight on my yard. Now we are waiting for help and nothing comes for now.
Now we are waiting for help and nothing comes for now.””

School in Jean Bellune

Jean Bellune is just one small community and there are so many more.

Despite these horrors of destruction, a Mass was celebrated for the feast day of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, patron saint of Jean Bellune. Not only a Mass of lamentations, but also a Mass of thanksgiving for life still viable. In addition, after mass, a small food distribution was made thanks to the generous help of a Haitian in the diaspora.

From Deschamps, another partner community, we heard from Pastor Erik yesterday, with the relatively good news that he and his family are ok, and the houses Haitian Connection has built are standing up, except for some moderate damage that they will repair themselves. They are asking for sacks of cement to do this work themselves. But as always in Haiti, they are still thanking God for being alive.

In Latibolye, another of our partner communities, the damage has been severe. The school is inhabitable, the health center has been completely destroyed, and many houses have just been totally flattened. Latibolye has been difficult to access in good times; now it becomes even more difficult. We have very active women leaders in that community who are also our mental health agents. We are activating our mental health activities via WhatsApp to lend our support to our mental health agents, as well as for them to give people in their communities support.

Jeremie Breadfruit Flour and Nursery has been working tirelessly to make bread and comparets (Haitian sweet rolls) in their bakery, which was thankfully spared by the earthquake. Thanks to the support of Trees That Feed Foundation, they are able to make 40,000 breads and comparets to be distributed to the population. The CEO, Pierre-Moise Louis, is a graduate of the University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse.

This just came out as an SOS from the local communities: aid is concentrated in Jeremie, but is not getting to the outlying areas. Those are the areas that Haitian Connection is mostly working in, and those are the areas where we will continue to concentrate our efforts

From a friend: If you want to help Haiti, she encourages that you send money directly to people in the affected areas. After 2010, many IDPs lived in tents for years as the money ran out and “building better,” promised by many, was just a dream. This is still hurricane season, and a few potential hurricanes are on the horizon. Haitians can start rebuilding their lives TODAY, and not have to wait indefinitely for help that may or may not come. The extra money can also help stimulate the economy and get people back on their feet faster. In the end, it is Haitians that will have to rebuild their lives, like we have always done after such tragedies.

Haitian Connection will follow this advice. Thanks to your immeasurable generosity we are able to do exactly this. Each and every one of you who have so generously given will get a personal thank you from us. We will continue to keep you advised about the situation on the ground.

One love,

From Fr. Rick Frechette:

“We had a surprise on coming to Jeremie late last night with a loaded truck: the suspension bridge into Jeremie, with 16 cables on each side that suspend it, had 3 broken cables on the west side. 

Also, since there are many places to buy scrap metal by the pound for export and recycling, someone with a huge wrench removed several of the huge iron bolts where the cables originate. 
Talk about being “penny wise and pound foolish”—weakening a feeble lifeline to the city for a few dollars.

Traffic had been crossing the bridge for all these days since the earthquake, but a heavy truck passing on the side of the three broken cables yesterday buckled the bridge, and put it in danger of collapse. So the only crossing allowed, as we got there at 10pm, was by motorcycle and foot.

In any other country, the bridge would be condemned. But to condemn that bridge totally right now would be to condemn Jeremie city and beyond. It’s the only practical way in. A new temporary dirt road will soon be cut further to the east, where traffic can drive through the river shallows, until a bridge can be built

The scene at the bridge was phenomenal. Food roasting on open fires, glowing on the dark street, rum flowing everywhere, overloaded motorcycles bobbing and weaving, bringing goods to the other side, clobbering foot passengers with their enormous cargo (including enough carbonated beverages to fill a lake and tons of the ever-present “cheese twists” or Cheetos.)
There were men rolling 50-gallon drums of fuel over the bridge by hand, and thieves were on the take. They are so good at their craft that they could steal the eyes out of your head. I felt like I was in a scene from a movie about old time pirates at a Caribbean port town. 

If, in your mind, you peel the thieves out of the scene, the human ingenuity and persistence is astounding and well worth imitating. Instead of Cheetos, we were crossing with high level intravenous antibiotics and ER/ICU medicines, syringes, IV fluids, oral medicines of all stripes, bandages and casting material, lidocaine and sutures.

Not sure how we would get our 400 boxes across the bridge, where Nebez already had a truck waiting for us on the other side, we settled on using three wheelbarrows and two motorcycles, instead of a “combit” pulled by hand. I had to surrender any hope of the boxes arriving at St. Antoine Hospital right side up, uncrushed and unopened, as we had meticulously packed them.

We succeeded after 10 crossings, largely because in order to pack as many boxes as possible on a motorcycle, and not having large bags or sacks on hand for this unforeseen complication, we used body bags as sacks. It is amazing how people ceded the way to us, owing to their doubt about the contents. 

We got everything to St Antoine Hospital, Jeremie Ville, late last night.”