Friday, September 26, 2008

Successes In Haiti Swept Away By Ike

Ike is only the latest in a series of storms that have deepened Haiti's misery

By Jay Price

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="237" caption=" In Haiti, residents moved their few belongings to a roof to protect them from the sea of mud that flowed into the city of Gonaives because of Hurricane Ike. Aid groups from the Triangle are scrambling to raise money and send relief. Photos by Jay Price "] In Haiti, residents moved their few belongings to a roof to protect them from the sea of mud that flowed into the city of Gonaives because of Hurricane Ike. Aid groups from the Triangle are scrambling to raise money and send relief. Photos by Jay Price [/caption]

GONAIVES, HAITI - After Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, Hearts and Hands for Haiti, a tiny Raleigh-based charity, paid for the materials to help residents of the tiny farming community of Sous Raille rebuild their homes.

Now most of those homes are gone again.

Four tropical storms, ending with Hurricane Ike earlier this month, have raked Haiti this summer, bringing more misery to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

North Carolina has an unusually close relationship with Haiti. Hearts and Hands for Haiti is one of dozens of Triangle churches and aid groups that support missions in Haiti, including orphanages, schools and medical clinics, and this summer's storms have them scrambling to raise money and send relief, often to people and places they already know well.

"The people there are extremely resilient, and I know that, but I'm wiped out emotionally just hearing about it," Stan Wiebe, who along with his wife, Patty, run Hearts and Hands for Haiti out of their basement, said in an e-mail message Tuesday from the United States.

The group is nearly halfway toward its target of raising $120,000, with the main goal of rebuilding Sous Raille, near the city of Gonaives, Wiebe said. Two local foundations said Sunday that they would match up to the next $20,000 in contributions, Wiebe said.

His group already sent $12,000 in cash for emergency food and clothes. That money was distributed by churches it works with in the Gonaives area, which was among Haiti's worst hit.

The money is badly needed. The people will need new homes. They need enough to eat. Staples such as rice, already expensive because of a worldwide shortage, have doubled in price, and several families in Sous Raille said they were getting only one meal every two or three days.

Thirteen members of the Jean-Baptiste family, who lived in a single shack divided into two homes in Sous Raille, moved to higher ground when the storm started. They returned to find that their home, built with materials provided by Hearts and Hands for Haiti, had been swept away. Now they spend their days under a big mango tree beside the square outline of rocks that shows where the house was, with no food and no way to earn money.

"We are just waiting for support because we don't see any way we can help ourselves now," said Dieule Jean-Baptiste, 52, standing in the shade of the mango tree.

A vulnerable enclave

In the center of Gonaives, Haiti's fourth-largest city, some streets are still under water and entire neighborhoods are buried under up to five feet of mud. Hundreds, maybe thousands, have moved their belongings onto their roofs, where they are living to stay out of the stinking slurry.

In few parts of the city, though, was the devastation as thorough as in Sous Raille. The community, which was reachable even before only by footpath, is a wasteland of tangled debris, hardening mud and freshly cut streambeds. A handful of houses survived; mercifully, a safe drinking water well drilled by Hearts and Hands for Haiti is still working.

About 1,000 people who have lost their homes, including the Jean-Baptiste family, are sleeping in one of two churches operated by the Children's Training and Nutrition Center, which also has an orphanage and school, co-founder Milo John said in an interview.

In the 2004 storm, 69 were killed in the tiny community, and thousands city-wide, John said. This time, fewer were killed in Sous Raille, though the dead include one student of the children's center school, which Hearts and Hands for Haiti subsidizes.

It's clear now that the neighborhood is unusually vulnerable, even by the standards of disaster-plagued Haiti. Like Princeville and other poor communities devastated in North Carolina after Hurricane Floyd, it was built on land that's cheap because it's flood-prone.

Hearts and Hands for Haiti is now checking into the possibility of buying land on higher ground and helping Sous Raille residents build a village there, Wiebe said.

A torrent and a tree

In interviews this week, residents of Sous Raille swirled together discussion of Hurricane Jeanne with their more recent catastrophe.

The earlier storm and a life of hard times left Edette Henry unimpressed at her own survival in Ike.

There were 10 people in Henry's home when they realized the river was rising too quickly to escape. They pulled themselves into the limbs of a nearby tree and spent a full night there, hoping that they could hold on and that the tree would stand against the roof-high torrent, she said.

"It happened before, so I wasn't scared," she said.

The 2004 storm was worse, Henry said, because it swept her and two of her children downstream. She was badly injured and lost 14 family members, including her 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. She herself was badly injured, she said.

Now the home that she had built with help from Wiebe's group is gone, and she's living with several family members in a utility shed-sized shack cobbled from tin and sticks salvaged from storm debris.

In the first days after Ike, the Jean-Baptistes and their neighbors foraged for plantains among what trees had survived. Now they've stopped, because there are none left to find. There are no jobs, and thousands like them are ready to scramble for any opportunity.

Nearby, a toddler napped on a stained dress spread in the dirt, and one of Jean-Baptiste's daughters fiddled with the hair of a naked baby. The rest of the family sat and talked or just looked at the ground. All of their possessions lay in the dirt for the world to see: two plastic cooking oil jugs filled with water.

Mainly, said Jean-Baptiste's brother, Wilfred, who lived in the other half of the house, they wait for whatever comes next, good or bad.

"We sit and spend time, then we go to the church to sleep," he said. "There is nothing else." or (919) 829-4526

News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this story.

Source: NewsObserver.Com

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