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Volunteers from 16 states in Haiti so far

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–Yet another aftershock rattled Haiti in the early morning hours of Feb. 22, six weeks after the initial 7.0 earthquake devastated the Caribbean country.

“The Lord provided us all with an early morning wakeup call — a bed-shaking, chandelier-swinging, earth-rumbling aftershock that sent volunteers out of the Florida guesthouse,” Kentucky Baptist disaster relief leader Tom Westerfield reported from Port-au-Prince where he is serving on the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief incident command team. Long before the earthquake, the guesthouse had been providing housing for volunteers participating in Florida Baptists’ partnership with Haiti Baptists.

Between Feb. 1 and March 31, more than 200 Southern Baptist volunteers from 16 state conventions and Baptist missions entities have gone or are scheduled to go to Haiti for medical work, chaplaincy, building inspection/assessment, water purification and well-drilling.

Because of the recurring aftershocks, Haitian families — fearing future quakes and tremors — refuse to move back into their damaged homes.

“The Haitians are still sleeping in the streets because they won’t go back into their block homes,” said Terry Henderson, disaster relief consultant for the North American Mission Board, who just returned from two weeks’ duty in Haiti. “Every night they pull their beds out, block the streets and go to sleep. They’re really worried about going back inside.”

So in an effort to reach out to Haitian families, disaster relief building inspection and chaplain teams have been surveying homes, churches and schools to determine if they’re structurally safe.

“Stucco walls may be cracked but the house’s main supports may be OK,” Henderson said. “If a family’s home is safe, they need to move back in because Haiti’s rainy season starts in April.”

Henderson said the majority of homes in the Port-au-Prince area collapsed during and right after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Of those who survived, nearly all have one or more family members still entombed in the rubble.

“We had an interpreter who showed us his brother’s house, where his brother and nine family members are still buried. There’s just not enough heavy equipment in Haiti to dig out all the bodies under the concrete.”

Thousands of Haitians who survived the original earthquake have forsaken the capital city of Port-au-Prince for new lives in the Haitian countryside, where they’re claiming land by staking off plots with sticks and rocks. There, they build lean-tos of plastic sheeting. However, several tent “cities,” inhabited with as many as 200,000 Haitians, also remain in Port-au-Prince.

“Eventually, we’re going to help people rebuild their homes but we’re not at that point yet,” Henderson said. “One idea is to build some temporary housing before the rainy season starts.”

As of Feb. 22, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers had worked nearly 1,200 volunteer days and made more than 9,200 ministry contacts, resulting in 222 professions of faith. Medical units from a dozen states have seen nearly 8,500 Haitian patients, dispensed 16,900 medicines and distributed 24 tons of rice (204,000 servings).

Although the medical teams no longer are seeing as many earthquake trauma injuries and the number of amputations has dropped sharply, Henderson said the teams continue to treat six-week-old “crush” wounds as well as infections. They’re also delivering babies and even treating gunshot wounds. The SBDR team currently is setting up a huge “warehouse” for medicines under a large circus-type tent.

Unsanitary conditions, stress, jammed traffic and housing and security issues continue to plague the Haitian people as well as the scores of volunteers who have arrived in the country to help them, Henderson said.

“Some Haitians see a puddle of water by the road or get a bucket of water out of a ditch and use that to bathe. It’s usually contaminated with raw sewage. Streets are clogged because of garbage and rubble, so it may take 45 minutes for us to drive one mile. Bodies can still be found along the sides of roads. The local Haitian volunteers are under a lot of stress because they work all day, get little sleep and then have to sleep outside in the rain.

“Housing is still a big problem as we prepare to deploy more people,” Henderson continued. “The Florida guesthouse only holds 55 people. There’s also the challenge of transporting our volunteers around safely. There are some dangerous areas where you have to be aware of where you are at all times, and know when to roll up your windows and lock your doors.”

As if Haiti did not have enough problems, crime continues. Henderson said “taxi drivers” skulk around the Port-au-Prince area, pick up unsuspecting Haitians, rob them and dump them at remote spots.

Henderson said Haiti also is not without its heartbreaking moments even six weeks after the initial earthquake.

On arriving in Haiti, Henderson said he anticipated seeing flowers and memorials at the burial sites for the some 200,000 people who perished and were buried in mass graves. Instead, he spotted only one tiny cross at one burial site.

“It’s humbling to go to Haiti and see all the death and destruction. But I didn’t meet any Haitians who didn’t want us there. They just want our help.”

Fritz Wilson, disaster relief director for the Florida Baptist Convention, has been named as the first long-term Southern Baptist Disaster Relief incident commander for Haiti, overseeing disaster relief efforts as more and more volunteers are deployed in the weeks ahead. A Unified Coordination Group has been formed consisting of representatives of the Florida convention, NAMB, the International Mission Board, Baptist Global Response, the Baptist convention Confraternite Missionaire Baptiste d’Haiti and the Baptist Convention of Haiti.

Transportation into Port-Au-Prince should become easier since commercial airline traffic was scheduled to resume at the airport on Feb. 19. In addition to NAMB, IMB and Baptist Global Response staff, state conventions that have sent or will be sending volunteers to Haiti from Feb. 1 to March 31 are Florida, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, California, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Texas Baptist Men, Louisiana, New York, Arkansas, Virginia Baptist Mission Board, Kentucky, Mississippi, Indiana and Wyoming.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.

Southern Baptists can contribute to “Haiti Earthquake Disaster Relief” through their local church or directly to their state convention, the North American Mission Board (www.namb.net) or the International Mission Board (www.imb.org).

— The Florida Baptist Convention has established a Haiti earthquake relief fund, available online at www.flbaptist.org. Donations also may be sent to Florida Baptist Convention, 1230 Hendricks Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32257. Designate on check “Haitian Earthquake relief.” For more information, call 800-226-8584, ext. 3135; or 904-596-3135.

— The North American Mission Board has set up a Haiti disaster relief fund that will direct money to state conventions and other Southern Baptists who are doing relief work in Haiti. Donations may be made online, www.NAMB.net, by phone, 1-866-407-6262, or by mail, North American Mission Board, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Make checks payable to “Haiti Disaster Relief Fund/NAMB.”

— Initial funding for the relief effort will come from the International Mission Board’s disaster relief fund. Contributions can be made online, www.imb.org, or by mail, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.

Regardless of the SBC channel, all funds received for this purpose will go to relief efforts; none will be used for administrative costs.

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  • Mickey Noah