A man pushes a bicycle in floodwaters Oct. 4 in Les Cayes, Haiti, as Hurricane Matthew sweeps through the island nation. CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters

Catholic aid agency joins relief effort for victims of Hurricane Matthew

By  Catholic Register Staff and Wire
  • October 5, 2016

WASHINGTON – Canada’s Catholic aid agency has already sent $50,000 to help the people of Haiti cope with the worst storm to hit the Caribbean nation in a decade. But the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace is still counting on Catholics to give.

Wind-whipped rains from Hurricane Matthew shattered Haiti's southwest peninsula, downing trees, ripping open makeshift wooden homes and causing widespread flooding Oct. 4 as aid workers waited for the storm to subside before mobilizing.

Development and Peace, which is the Canadian arm of the global Caritas network, is channelling aid through Caritas Haiti. Donations can be made online at http://bit.ly/2d3nDoZ.

Development and Peace is in contact with the dozens of organizations it supports in Haiti, but has yet to draw up a clear picture of the extent of the damage.

The city of Les Cayes and coastal towns and villages in South Department were experiencing the most destruction as the storm made landfall at dawn with 235 km/hr winds.

Forecasters expected Matthew to dump up to 30 inches of rain in most communities, with some locales receiving up to 40 inches.

Les Cayes and surrounding areas were the focus of concern for Catholic Relief Services. Kim Pozniak, communications manager, told Catholic News Service that the potential for landslides was high because of the geography of the region.

She said CRS staff also was troubled over the well-being of residents who decided to stay in their homes despite calls to evacuate.

"I was told by staff in Les Cayes yesterday (Oct. 3) that the government was going around with megaphones to alert people. But many decided to stay put to protect their homes and belongings. We've heard that some people did not think the storm would be as severe as predicted," Pozniak said.

She said Chris Bessey, CRS country director, had been in contact with CRS staff in Les Cayes, despite disruptions in electrical and internet service.

"Trees were knocked down and also there was some flooding already," she said. "We're unable to communicate with the staff in Les Cayes because everything is down."

The agency had positioned relief supplies, including food, sanitation and kitchen kits and emergency shelter materials in warehouses in the area, and workers were prepared to begin delivering aid once the storm moved north. Engineers were stationed in three locales and were preparing to begin assessing damage to homes and to help people with the shelter materials, Pozniak said.

In the hours before the storm made landfall, CRS staff had assisted Haiti's Civil Protection Agency by offering vehicles and fuel for use to help with evacuation, she added.

Heavy rains also pounded the capital of Port-au-Prince, causing some flooding in low-lying areas, but winds were not as severe, Jacques Liautaud, Haiti manager for the church rebuilding project known as PROCHE, told Catholic News Service Oct. 4.

"We're seeing mostly rain and a few gusts of high winds. Otherwise, it's been relatively calm," said Liautaud, who was in the country monitoring construction projects underway to help the Catholic Church rebuild after the country's powerful 2010 earthquake.

"The city is pretty shut down today. Everybody is sheltering in place," he said.

Liautaud added that Haitian media reported that at least three people had died because of the storm. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

The center of Matthew was expected to continue on a northward path through the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. Heavy rains were expected in eastern Cuba, and hurricane warnings were issued for the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands.

Haiti is still recovering from the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that killed 230,000, forced close to one million from their homes and precipitated a deadly outbreak of cholera. At that time Canadian Catholics funneled $20.4 million through Development and Peace for emergency relief and rebuilding efforts.

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