Haiti’s southern peninsula likely burns more than any place you’ve been—especially now. The smoke mingles with wafts of decay and ocean air, wreaking a pungent breeze through open windows. You can smell the burning in your sleep, and it wakes you. You can hear and see it night and day—the stripped-bare trees and fields piled high and set ablaze to make way for a new life, again.
Category 4 Hurricane Matthew is among the largest storms on record to hit the Caribbean and is the largest storm to strike the area in more than a decade. Yet even as the rest of the Western Hemisphere watched with horror as Matthew approached Haiti’s southern peninsula, the people living in the bullseye didn’t think much of it until it was on them.
“I mean I knew there was a storm coming, but I didn’t know it would be like this,” said Pastor Horlritch Francois, a native of Haiti who moved to Chardonnières, Haiti, to serve the area as a missionary sent from stateside Haitian churches. “I’ve never seen a wind like that.”
News didn’t travel quickly enough, there were few evacuations, and then the world around them just exploded in wind and walls of water and shrapnel. Those who could ran from their houses. Many of those who couldn't did not survive.
Now in the calm, Haitians wander through the war zone where their homes and livelihoods once stood. Crops and livestock are gone. Homes are gone. Friends and family are gone. More than a thousand people died. What the wind didn’t topple, the storm surge decimated—homes, churches, animals, people, and everything in its path.
At any time of night, people walk in flip flops or barefoot over rough terrain. Or they start fires, or watch fires, or wait for something to change.
“I woke up this morning and we waited for some help to come,” said Jean Clarens, 16, from Jeremie. “When no one came, my family sent me out to go find something, anything, to bring home.”
For the people living in Matthew’s path, it’ll be a long time before “normal” is reclaimed. But Samaritan’s Purse staff members have been at ground zero since the early days of Matthew’s aftermath, and they are witnessing hope and life return, if slowly, to this weary land. We are playing a part in seeing this happen as we provide supplies and medical care in Jesus’ Name.
If you look at a map of the island that’s home to Haiti (and the Dominican Republic), you’ll see a southern peninsula reaching toward Jamaica. This peninsula is where Hurricane Matthew stalled with its 145 mile per hour winds before moving on to devastate other parts of Haiti, then Cuba, the Bahamas, and the U.S. coast.
The cities and surrounding areas of Jérémie and Les Cayes took the brunt of the storm, and those are the areas where Samaritan's Purse distributed plastic sheeting for emergency shelter, blankets, water treatment supplies, hygiene kits, and food in the early days after the storm.
As we worked, news of cholera began to emerge through our medical teams canvassing outlying towns and villages.
Cholera has been in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, but after Hurricane Matthew, Dr. Lance Plyler, medical advisor for Samaritan's Purse, was seeing signs that the disease could become another epidemic. As good water sources became contaminated and communities turned to drinking the only water they could find in streams and run off, a cholera outbreak began to rear up.
“Anyone who’s ever seen cholera will never forget it.”
It wasn't long before the first deaths were reported, and not long after that, an expanded medical response was set into action.
"Anyone who's ever seen cholera will never forget it," said Cindy Uttley, director of community health for Samaritan's Purse.
Soon we received word that Chardonnières was experiencing a staggering number of cases. Surrounding villages were bringing their sick and dead, and no one could help them.
Within a day, our DC-8 had brought in the doctors and nurses who would make the trek from our base of operation in Les Cayes westward to Chardonnières. This would be one of eight DC-8 airlifts transporting personnel and hundreds of tons of supplies to the devastated region.
The road to Chardonnières would be a bumpy one, but there was an overwhelming sense of God's presence in those remote areas as medical teams began treating the injured, sick, and dying in Jesus' Name.
"I've never been so sure in my life that I am where God wanted me to be," said Dr. Steve Haverly. "And that is an awesome feeling."
It's been weeks since Hurricane Matthew made landfall on Haiti's southern coast, but our work isn't over. Samaritan's Purse staff members in our Haiti field office, which was established after the earthquake in 2010, continue to provide relief and hope in Jesus' Name to the hundreds of communities and tens of thousands of homes devastated by the Category 4 storm.