Operation Blessing’s Haiti National Director, Eric Lotz, gives a firsthand report on relief efforts for hurricane victims in Haiti.
HAITI – Today saw more rain here in Port-au-Prince. The streets are flooded; at times we were up to our headlights in water. While the rivers have receded some, they are still well beyond their banks and continue to wreak havoc on the houses built there.
We ventured out this morning and went to a hole-in-the-wall wholesale store to buy provisions to distribute in one of the hardest hit areas, Croix-de-Mission. We are aware of 60 families that have lost houses in that area alone as a result of the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. There are many more up and down the river that you can see from the main and back roads…and that is just one river! I have heard reports of rivers all throughout Haiti with houses on their banks succumbing to the same fate; washed away by the raging torrents of what were once docile rivers.
Just buying the supplies was a lesson in patience. Of course, nothing is easy in times like these. After receiving a price list of the items we wished to purchase, we then determined how many of each item we could purchase for the affected families. After sorting through a mess of price differences, some rattled off in U.S. dollars, some in Haitian dollars, and still more in Haitian Gourdes, we put in our order and waited to receive our products. After some time, the proprietors came out with our merchandise and we were ready to rush to our headquarters to package the materials into easy to distribute packages.
Once we arrived at our headquarters, it was all hands on deck to get the supplies packed quickly and orderly to ensure everyone would receive the same amount of goods. All during the time we packaged, rain continued to fall outside as a reminder of the storm that has left so many homeless. Spaghetti, tomato paste, canned fish, salt, powdered milk, rice, beans, cooking oil, energy cookies, bath soap, tooth brushes, toothpaste, chlorine, and LifeSaver jerrycans all went into the relief packages.
We loaded our box truck and headed out to distribute the packages to 60 families who had lost their houses, and who had been identified to us by a local pastor in Croix-de-Mission.
The roads that lead to Croix-de-Mission were still very much flooded, a sign of the amount of rain that has fallen since the beginning of this monsoon-like storm. The rivers we passed were filled beyond their banks with brown, muddy, churning water, with much the same color as heavily creamed coffee; but with trees, trash, and other debris being carried swiftly downstream by the deluge. The bridge at Croix-de-Mission looked ominously low, but in reality it was the water that was so high…there was not much clearance between the river and the bridge. We worried about the structural integrity of the bridge’s footings.
Turning into the community, we were immediately met by locals who told us the road had been completely washed away. We had just been here yesterday and there was still twenty feet of road left, now just a memory; a testament to the strength of the storm. Detouring to a new road, we continued through the maze of streets until we wound up right in the middle of a throng of people.
It was then I recognized the pastor I had met just the day before, and realized the throng of people were waiting for us. We backed our box truck up to a fork in the road, and began the process of distributing what could very well be these people’s first meal in days.
These distributions are never easy; no matter how big your box truck is, or how unlimited your budget, there never seems to be enough to go around for every person who shows up. Thankfully, we had a list of those who would be receiving packages; the pastor had spent the previous evening and part of the morning preparing the list of families who had lost everything. We called them forward one by one, and sent them on their way, struggling under the weight of what had just been freely given them.
Driving back to our headquarters to debrief, we remarked how we could almost see sunlight trying to pierce its way through the clouds, offering a glimpse of hope that the damaging rains were winding down. I hope for those families that lost everything in such a difficult time, that our gift was also a glimmer of hope.