Haitian Priest is Eye Witness to Storm Damage

Kai T. Hill is an associate web producer for CRS. She traveled to Miami to report on local parish efforts to assist storm survivors in Cuba and Haiti.

I arrived at Notre Dame D’ Haiti on Tuesday, September 23, 2008. Father Reginald Jean-Mary, the church’s pastor is off today. But in a phone interview he sounds weary as he describes the situation on the island.

Parish response

Father Reginald Jean-Mary pastor of Notre Dame D’ Haiti was in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti just after Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna struck and was witness to the destruction brought by the storms. Photo Courtesy of Notre Dame D’ Haiti

I visited this parish, located in the heart of Miami’s Little Haiti community, just four months ago. At that time, I was here to talk about Haitians coping with the food crisis. That crisis never quite went away but instead was compounded by four violent storms. Hurricane’s Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike all hit Haiti over the course of a few weeks, destroying homes and displacing hundreds of thousands of residents.

As Catholic Relief Services provides immediate relief to thousands of Haitians affected by floods, parishes around the U.S., like those in Miami’s Little Haiti, are also on the front lines of response as they raise funds and collect donated goods destined for Haiti. CRS is securing warehouses in Haiti for the bishops to store incoming shipments of donations. Responding to Haiti’s flood needs is made possible by donors who contribute to CRS’ Latin America and Caribbean Severe Weather Fund.

Fr. Reginald, a 1999 CRS Global Fellow, was in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti just after Hurricanes Gustav and Hanna struck but before Hurricane Ike touched down. Every department on the island had been affected by the massive flooding. Families are reeling from lack of food, loss or damage to homes, furniture and possessions. Fr. Reginald describes seeing a scene of utter catastrophe in Hanna’s wake.

“People lost a lot of crops and livestock. Houses on the mountain where destroyed,” he recounted from his trip from Port-Au-Prince to Miragoane in the south. “The ocean was very high. There was water on all of the streets. It was very devastating.”

Given Haiti’s poor infrastructure, political instability and lack of sustainable development, Fr. Reginald says it’s no wonder the island reels with each crisis that comes its way.

“It’s the reason this happens on a yearly basis,” he explains. “We have to establish measures to prevent these things from happening. It requires education. We have to educate the community not to build houses near the river when there are no levees.”

While Fr. Reginald stresses the need for long term solutions, his parish’s focus is now on immediate needs. His parish stays on the front lines of response. Throughout the day, delivery trucks drop off truckloads of donations from businesses. People from diverse backgrounds are dropping off clothes and cases of food and water.

“Whenever Haiti is on the news there’s always a great response. I’m very moved by the response to Haiti,” he said. “I would never expect the response to Haiti from what I saw in the past two weeks. People are very concerned about Haiti. I do not lose hope. I believe somehow one day we will rise from the ashes.”

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