:PHOTO: Aug. 14, 2021 Earthquake in Haiti. Injured man being treated by HERO Emergency Responders (AP Photo. Duples Plymouth)
Port-au-Prince, August 19, 2021: It was a sunny Saturday morning. Perfect time for a relaxed breakfast. My granddaughter rushed into the kitchen, “Oma, did you notice the shaking too?” I hadn’t noticed anything, but almost everyone who was on the upper floors of their houses ran into the street. In the capital, it initially felt like a minor earth tremor. Barely noticed by many, it spooked others in memory of the devastating earthquake of 2010.
We held our breath, expecting another earthquake. Nothing. Instead, minutes later, the ping-ping of incoming WhatsApp messages rang on our phones. We stared, stunned, at the images and videos from southern Haiti that appeared on the screen. “Earthquake, disaster, everything is destroyed.” The cries for help spoke volumes. Speechless, we looked at the images of the collapsed cathedral and village churches, schools, stores and homes. All engulfed in rubble and clouds of dust. From the smallest hut to the most elegant residence, few seemed to have been spared. A baptism was taking place in the 300-year-old church of Les Anglais. It collapsed, none of the eighteen parishioners survived. The center of Les Cayes, a field of rubble. The old cathedral, completely destroyed, as were the houses of the adjacent neighborhood. The cardinal made it out injured, other priests were killed by falling walls. A hotel collapsed like a house of cards, reduced to a mere quarter of its height, the owner and guests buried in the rubble. Another hotel had its walls torn open and doors ripped out. Thirty seconds was all it took.
As soon as they received the first calls for help, HERO, a private ambulance service based in Port-au-Prince, flew by helicopter to Jeremie and Les Cayes to help recover victims and stabilize the injured. Many of HERO’s first responders and doctors are seasoned war veterans who volunteer in ambulance operations and provide disaster relief. In conjunction with other organizations, they set up an airlift to fly seriously injured people to the capital and deliver medical supplies to the south.
The southern departments of Haiti are the country’s breadbasket and had just halfway recovered from the devastating effects of Hurricane Matthew, which hit the region in 2016. August is harvest time and in many villages farmers had been in the fields since early in the morning. The fields on the slopes came sliding down, burying them underneath. People were proud of their newly built road connecting Les Cayes with the city of Jeremie on the other side of the coast. When a hill gave way, the huge earthen avalanche barricaded it and 50,000 people were cut off from the outside world. Jeremie could only be reached by air or by boat. The few hospitals in the south filled up to bursting point within hours. Their equipment has always been rudimentary. They suffer a constant shortage of doctors and nursing staff and have no emergency responders. But above all, there has always been a shortage of medicines, bandages and medical supplies. The injured lay in every nook and cranny of the hospitals’ backyards or courtyards, many in critical condition. People screaming for help, crying and moaning. Many children with eyes wide open in a state of shock. Some died while waiting for help. There was no contact with the injured in the villages because many areas were cut off from the land route. The south is as big as half of the state of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, 12,820 km² or 4.950 sq. miles, so it takes a while to reach everyone.
Our security guard is from the south, from Pestel. A community of 36.000 inhabitants. Pestel has no hospital. “My family’s houses are all destroyed. My 12-year-old nephew, who is disabled, was crushed to death when the house collapsed; he couldn’t run away. My uncle is badly injured. A nurse tried to take care of his open fractures. But painkillers, they don’t have,” the man tells me, “and then the phone connection failed. They haven’t answered since.” I don’t know what to say. He stares at me, helpless.
As the weekend progresses, the news got more concrete. The number of victims runs into the thousands. Many missing people still remain under the rubble. Time is running out to rescue them alive. Faced with the immense number of casualties, the U.S. Coast Guard rushed in from Florida with their helicopters and rescue boats to help. Government and Non-profit organizations, as well as private individuals and churches, began preparing aid convoys to travel south with everything that’s lacking; tents, blankets, food, drinking water, baby food, clothes, water purifiers, shovels, excavators. Trucks are loaded regardless of the fact that the journey through a “no-go” zone controlled by violent gangs is life-threatening. The police want to create a safety corridor. Whether it will work, no one knows.
And then came “Grace.” The name Grace means mercy or loveliness. Nothing was further from it than this tropical storm. With rain and wind gusts, Grace made its way across Haiti, dumping buckets and buckets of water on the battered southern peninsula. Just one day after the quake, the traumatized victims had to spend a long night in pouring rain and wind. Lucky were those who found plastic sheets or a small shelter, for no one dared return to their wrecked houses. Aftershocks continued to occur up to magnitude 5.7 on the Richter scale, and every wall posed a threat to life. Those who couldn’t find a tarp used banana tree leaves as an umbrella. But they all got drenched. “We spent the whole night standing up, all of us squeezed together and wrapped in an old plastic blanket. That’s all we had,” says the mother of three young children, standing barefoot in the mud of a waterlogged meadow during an interview. The looks on the children’s faces speak volumes.
The earth loosened by the quake gave way in many places, and landslides of rocks and earth now barricade roads and pathways. The Cavallion River became a swirling monster, spewing mud and masses of water. Survivors still lie under the rubble, many injured, with no one to rescue them at night in this weather.
The hospitals, far too small, brought in the patients who had been lying outside in the garden. It became crowded, very crowded in the rooms and corridors. Most had to lie on the floor. Both, the HERO first responders and physicians were clambering between them in order to provide a somewhat adequate emergency care. Storm-tested U.S. Coast Guard pilots flew their helicopters despite the stormy weather and managed to evacuate some seriously injured people before nightfall. Nonetheless, Grace added to the death toll.
So far, 2,189 people have been killed and more than 12,300 injured. The trend is upwards.
Today is day 5 after the earthquake. Since Saturday, there have been over 500 aftershocks, some so strong that they were felt in the capital. HERO teams continue to deploy to Cayes and Jeremie hospitals and fly out the critical patients. In Port-au-Prince, HERO ambulances are transporting the injured from the airport to the hospitals which begin to fill up fast with severe cases. The need for bandages and medication is enormous. Not only medical supplies are needed, but so are additional first responders. After all, the teams on the ground need to take rest breaks too. Thus, additional EMT need to pick up and treat the sheer endless number of injured in a country where medical care is extremely precarious under any normal circumstances. HERO doctors and first responders volunteer in Haiti, sacrificing their vacation to help during disasters. Many fly in at their own expense. However, they must be housed and nourished. That costs money. Ambulance fuel costs money and transporting material costs money too. Would you please help? Thank you for your kindness.
Please donate either via the HERO FOUNDATION website: http://www.herofoundationusa.org
Or in Europe via the association LICHTBLICK HAITI e.V.
Lichtblick Haiti e. V.
IBAN: DE84 2806 4179 0426 6153 00
Reference: Erdbeben Hilfe HERO
Donation receipts will be issued in January 2022. Please indicate your address on the bank transfer.
THE GERMAN VERSION WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON FOCUS ONLINE LOCAL-REPORTER https://www.facebook.com/groups/1070400636436520/
2 thoughts on “Haiti – Between a trembling earth and tropical storm Grace”
Anne. This is incredible. Have you thought of submitting to a national newspaper your observations? The tragedy in Haiti is unspeakable. I think of what I read today about the new chaplain at Harvard and his impact on his students. One said that the overarching theme of all religions, she learned, is the need to surrender. So hard but without it, where would our faith in God be? I hope as of this reading you are well and safe.
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Thank you, Susan. I have not submitted it to any newspaper. At the moment I am writing another piece as follow up. Maybe I should send it out. And, yes, the situation is dire. The Haitian nation has been through so much and it keeps hitting us non stop. God alone is our help and our salvation. Without him there would be despair. I am thankful for our faith. In the South, 200 Catholic churches are completely destroyed and some 150 partially crumbled. 266 schools destroyed, among which are 100 Catholic institutions that gave excellent education. Not talking about infrastructure that is in ruins. It’s heartbreaking.