Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Cayes, Haiti, distribute food packets near Cayes. Bottom, Haitians wade through a flooded street after Hurricane Hanna dumped even more rainfall on areas already suffering from extreme flooding. Photos courtesy Rotary District 7020
Four hurricanes within a span of a month have caused massive flooding in Haiti, sending local Rotarians scrambling to provide help for thousands displaced by the storms.
Past RI Director Barry Rassin, of Nassau, Bahamas, says the onslaught of hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike has left many parts of the island inaccessible, including the port city of Gonaives. The United Nations has estimated that as many as 600,000 people are in need of help because of the storms, which have killed more than 200 people.
"It's just been so devastating," Rassin says. "We have to wait for the flooding to go down to even be able to access some of the places."
"The last straw was Hanna," Rassin continued. "Parts of Hanna sat over Haiti for days and the ground had already been saturated. Ike made it worse, but Hanna devastated the place."
Dick McCombe, 2007-08 governor of RI District 7020, and Rassin have been coordinating much of the Rotarian relief effort through the Haiti Task Force, set up a year ago to administer all Rotarian financial aid to Haiti. The task force is composed of past and present assistant governors and Haitian Rotary officials.
The district is working with Red Cross, local NGOs, and local Rotary clubs to identify the most urgent needs, says Jack Martin, another past district governor. Because of the difficulty in shipping items to Haiti, the first step has been to provide funds to purchase supplies for the most needy.
How to help
Martin and McCombe are asking Rotarians to help out by sending donations. Information on how to do so is available at the RI Zones 33 and 34 Web site.
Members of the Rotary Club of Cayes helped distribute food packets to long lines earlier this month. Rassin said the district's relief efforts have raised US$25,000, not nearly enough to meet all the need.
"We are wire-transferring cash to Rotary contacts in the country, splitting it between regions," he says. "We did get a few containers of food in--and they were gone in a flash. The need is so great."
"You can see a sense of hopelessness and despair like nothing you've ever seen," writes Caleb Lucien, District 7020's health and hunger resource coordinator, on a Zones 33 and 34 online forum. "After a week of flooding, the only two streets in (Gonaives) that people can freely go from one end to the next is over 3 1/2 feet deep and people are walking almost a mile to go find shelter and something (food) on which to survive."
Rassin says district officials are hoping to charter a small plane to get a better look at the devastation.
"This has impacted the entire country," he says. "There is no place that isn't affected."
For more information
- View a Miami Herald slideshow of the devastation. (graphic content)
- Watch a BBC video of the havoc caused by the hurricanes.