Three days after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, thousands of people left homeless had to deal with the effects of Tropical Storm Grace, and the Church is struggling to cope with the demands of those most in need.
Heavy rain and strong winds beginning Monday night whipped at the country’s southwestern area, hit hardest by Saturday’s quake, and officials warned that rainfall could reach 15 inches in some areas before the storm moved on. Port-au-Prince, the capital, also saw heavy rains. Grace regained tropical storm status after falling to the level of a tropical depression.
The storm arrived on the same day that the country’s Civil Protection Agency raised the death toll from the earthquake to 1,419 and the number of injured to 6,000, many of whom have had to wait for medical help lying outside in wilting heat.
Thousands have been sleeping on the street since Saturday, either because they lost their houses or because they fear they may collapse with potential aftershocks.
“We now have overcast skies, and it has been raining for hours. Unfortunately, people are still on the street,” Jean-Claude Joseph told Crux.
A member of a base ecclesial movement, Joseph has been sleeping in the open air with his family in the city of Jérémie, one of the most impacted by the earthquake.
“My house has now a few fissures. In my mother’s house, some walls have collapsed,” Joseph said. Their neighbors have also joined them on the street.
In Jérémie, many injured people are receiving medical care out in the open. According to a CNN report, Hospital Saint Antoine is overwhelmed with patients and had to set up tents in its courtyard.
In Pestel, a city 47 miles east of Jérémie, at least two hundred houses have collapsed, said Father Cédras Noël.
“The situation is now chaotic. Many are injured, many were left homeless,” he told Crux.
Noël explained that the Catholic Church has been hugely impacted in several cities. Church buildings, Catholic schools, rectories, and other church properties have been hit.
“Sadly, people come to us looking for help but we cannot do much. The Church is another victim of that catastrophe,” he said.
According to a Caritas’ report, Cardinal Chibly Langlois’s residence in Les Cayes was damaged and he was injured, although it is not life-threatening. A priest who was at the same building died when he was hit by rubble.
The United Nations’ International Organization for Migration estimated that 13,600 homes have been destroyed by the earthquake and 700 buildings, including schools and hospitals, have collapsed. Another 13,000 homes have suffered damage.
With the arrival of Tropical Storm Grace, meteorologists fear that heavy rains may cause flooding and mudslides, leading other houses to collapse and further complicating the access of relief teams to the affected regions. Some roads and bridges were impacted, and traffic has been cut off between Jérémie and Les Cayes, among other areas.
Hospitals are now running out of medical supplies. The United Nations expects the number of cases of COVID-19 to grow over the next few days and weeks as a result of the humanitarian disaster.
Haitians have been facing multiple crisis over the past several years. An enduring economic decline has been keeping around 60 percent of the people in poverty. Violence is widespread, with armed gangs dominating vast territories and cutting off traffic between several regions. Kidnappings and robberies are common.
On July 7, after several months of political impasse, President Jovenel Moïse was killed at his home by a group of armed men, including several Colombian nationals. It is still not known who masterminded the assassination.
At the same time, the clergy has also been suffering from the current problems of the country. Priests and nuns have been targeted by kidnappers, who know their dioceses will pay their ramson.
With the earthquake, they also have to deal with the same injuries and other trauma as the rest of the population. Brazilian-born Sister Sueli Monteiro de Souza, a member of the inter-congregational mission of the Brazilian Church to Haiti, told the news website of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference (CNBB) that she is still trying to deal with all that happened on Saturday.
“It all happened very fast; it was a very tense situation. Many houses were destroyed, and people were hurt,” she told CNBB.
Souza and two other Brazilian nuns are running two healthcare facilities in the southern cities of Corail, Bellab, and Abacou. They also manage pastoral ministries and take care of the education of future nuns.
“We suddenly saw everything shaking. Only after a while did we realize it was an earthquake,” she added.
Archbishop Max Leroy Mésidor of Port au Prince released a statement after the quake calling on all Haitians, particularly the “decision makers”, to help the victims. Mésidor emphasized that Haiti has been facing recurrent challenges.
“From one test to another, our people live history as an existence marked by great suffering. The earthquake that shook the country on Saturday, August 14 […] has inscribed in our collective memory a new ominous date,” the letter read.
Noël said that he has been helping people the way he can, giving them an Evangelical message of hope.
“Even with an earthquake and a tropical storm, we have to remember that God is always with us,” the priest told Crux.
This article incorporated material from the Associated Press.