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By Amber Munger

haiticover(Following are excerpts from the blog of Amber Munger on RightsbasedHaiti.com. Munger is the director of Rights Based Haiti who was working in Haiti to empower local communes and families when last week’s earthquake struck. You can contribute to the relief effort discussed below by clicking here or learn more at Konpay.org.)

Thursday, Jan 14 2:02 PM

First Contact

In my thirteen years of working in Haiti, not once before have I seen such massive destruction as we are experiencing now. Nor have I seen such motivation, determination, compassion, and solidarity among people.

When we entered Port-au-Prince after the quake struck, the city had fallen and was continuing to fall as a result of continuous aftershocks. The streets were full of people sitting together. Everyone was sitting in the middle of the roads for fear that the houses would continue to fall on them. They were singing. The whole city was singing. They were singing songs of solidarity. They were singing songs of thanks and praise that they were still able to sing and to be together. These people have lost everything. The city is now a city of refugees. But they are putting their voices together to be thankful.

After recovering the loved ones that we could find in the wreckage, we spent the rest of the night assisting others in the street, strategizing and attempting to rest for the coming days. The whole night we could hear people singing, people screaming and crying when their loved ones died.

People are dying all around. And the tremors continue. The hospitals are full and cannot accept more people. All over Port-au-Prince there is danger from the destruction. There are still no cell phone communications or Internet available.

What is needed now is a way to get people out of the city. I am working with several organizations on a coordinated disaster response. We are focused on reinforcing the countryside so that people can leave Port-au-Prince and go back to their families in the province. Almost everyone in Port-au-Prince has family in the countryside. The efforts that I am supporting are helping Haitians to support their family members in leaving Port-au-Prince and in receiving the care that they need when they leave.

If not organized strategically, this disaster will soon have huge consequences to the food producing regions that depend on Port-au-Prince to purchase their product and services. We need to reinforce these areas and set up services in the communes so that people can flee the cities and find the support that they need in the communes. We need to support grassroots organizations in the commune by sending them resources to buy food, by sending them medical experts and materials, and provide them with other basic services that will support them in staying in the province and getting their lives together.

I am working with grassroots leaders in zones all over Port-au-Prince as well as leaders from the provinces to identify strategies to move the people out and to assist the people in Port-au-Prince who cannot leave in finding food, water, shelter and medical care. The network I am working with is coordinating their needs with the resources that are being sent from outside the country as well as from zone to zone within the country.

I am also partnering with AMURT-Haiti to coordinate emergency food relief in slums in the bourdon area of Port-au-Prince. We need help. We desperately need money to be sent to use for gas, transport, food, supplies coming from the US such as medical supplies and web phones, and to pay Haitians working to help Haitians. Many Haitians are working together without compensation to help one another. But this is not sustainable over the next month as resources begin to dwindle and people’s needs become desperate. We need to be able to support their work.

Please help!

Thursday, Jan 14 11:50 PM

Update

People are asking me what has happened so here is an update.  I was in the province where I live (Commune Anse Rouge) when the quake struck.  I was hosting two public health students from John Hopkins, a Haitian American who was considering working with my organization and the husband of a friend of mine who is a former producer from CBS named Frank.

After the quake we saw on the Internet that Port-au-Prince was badly affected.  Frank’s wife is a friend of mine who lives in Port-au-Prince at the Norwich Mission House.  We called her using my skype connection to see if she was ok.  She answered the phone and said that the house had fallen on her and she was trapped inside.  Then the phone was cut off and we could not again reach her.

We loaded the car with our things, including my dog, DixiePeanutWonderdog and made the five hour drive to Port-au-Prince.  When we got there the streets were filled with people.  They were singing among the wreckage.  You could see many dead and many more struggling to dig people out from wreckage.

We had to pass several other places on the way to the Norwich House.  Our first task was to get John, the Haitian American, to his house to see his wife to make sure that she was okay.  We made it through fine although the road was covered with toppled buildings and downed power lines, and people lying together in the streets to get away from falling houses.  We found John’s family safe so we headed back up the road toward the house where I stay when I am in Port-au-Prince.

The house is also a school for 200 students who live in the slum up the river.  Four adopted children and four orphaned teenagers in a “Kay Didi” where a female monk from Ananda Marga lives and cares for people in the neighborhood.  I was terrified that we would find the house, which is at the bottom of a ravine, had collapsed.  We could not make it up the street because many of the houses had fallen in the middle of the road.  Destroyed vehicles were everywhere and part of the road had fallen down the side of the mountain.  We left the car and climbed down the ravine on foot.  All of the children and all of the others who live at the house were sleeping outside, but the house was still there. I left DixiePeanut Wonderdog with the kids and we headed up to find Jillian at the Norwich Mission House.

haiti3When we arrived at the Mission House, Jillian was still trapped under the rubble.  Her staff was working tirelessly to dig her out.  Because there were so many people trying to get her out, I took the med students, one of whom is already a doctor, to the streets to see if we could be of any assistance.  There were so many people that needed help.  On that small street alone there were probably 400 wounded and we didn’t even walk to the end.  But with no medicine and no tools, there was little we could do.  The hospitals were full and would not take any more patients so people were dying right in front of us.  Back at the house, they were just then pulling Jillian out from under the rubble.  Once she was free, they dug out Chuck, the other director. Both were fine although Chuck was very banged up.

Setting Up the Hospital and Logistics

At that point we tried to rest so that we could get to work in the morning.  It was about 3 am.  There was no sleeping because the wailing, the singing, the crying and the tremors continued all night.  In the morning the streets were bustling and the wailing was fierce.

We had no communications – no Internet or phones.  Demeter Russafiv (coordinator for AMURT-haiti) and I began coordinating emergency relief efforts but all of our equipment – trucks, gas, tools, motorcycles – were back in the commune.  I hopped in Jillian’s borrowed land cruiser and drove to the commune to get supplies and ask our community in Commune Anse Rouge for help.  When I got there, the Internet was up and I began contacting the organizations that I work with.

I started coordinating with Melinda from Konpay and Beyond Borders as well as my AMURT partners.  There I found that volunteers for AMURT in the US had organized many medical staff and supplies that were ready to come to Haiti on a plane.  They need to know where to go.  At that point, every one started contacting me trying to figure out how to help.

Melinda and I discussed our strategy and decided that the best strategy is to get people out of the city and to keep the provinces alive by transporting the food from the provinces to the cities.  Immediately, I met with the grassroots leaders in the commune and they started preparing the community to receive families from the city.

After gathering supplies, I left for Port-au-Prince this afternoon.  We have three bases of operation so far and are creating more.  I am writing now from one of those in Port-au-Prince, the Mathew 25 house where they have turned the soccer field next to the guesthouse into a triage hospital.

There are more than a thousand wounded here already.  The doctors and the supplies would be here by now but the plane is too big to land so we are waiting to see what will happen next.  We are almost out of gas and there is none to be had in the city.

I planned to go to Didi’s again tonight. Before I could leave, I began getting a flurry of skypes saying that there is gunfire all over the city. I will try again tomorrow when we go to set up a logistics yard in Delmas.

Again, I am so happy and thankful to be here with my fellow Haitian community members and leaders from the province.  We all made it safe and sound.  Tomorrow we will try to find their families and develop our strategy for moving those not seriously injured to the communal zones. Thank you all for your concerns.  I will keep you posted as I can.

Friday, Jan 15 5:52 AM

Aftershocks

This morning we woke up to aftershocks around 5 am.  Again, the tremors were met with singing.  The singing is almost as forceful as the quakes.  They are still singing now with all of their force – Hallelujah!  It is as if they are saying “We are not afraid!”  These people are so beautiful that I cry even now, as my ears are filled with their voices and I am writing these lines, hoping that the power will hold out.  There are no others like the Haitian people.

The singing was all night.  There were other aftershocks throughout the night.  But this singing now is the singing that will also meet the sun as it comes up to show us all of the damage once again.  Bittersweet sunrise.

Today the big question is gas.  We ran out two days ago when I drove back to the commune.  We meaning the country.  On my drive back to the commune I stopped at various points along the road to buy what I could, gallon by gallon.  I stopped at six gas stations and was finally able to get a full tank of diesel.

I am eager to leave the Matthew House to check out the school at Delmas 31 so that we can start setting it up with mechanics, parts and tools.  I also want to get to Didi’s.  But I am afraid to leave until the sun comes up.  I just want to hug the kids.  What I wouldn’t do for a hug!

Friday, Jan 15 3:15 PM

Request for help! What to do?

If someone with disaster relief experience can contact me – we need your help! We cannot figure out what to do with the trash at the makeshift hospital that we have set up at the soccer field here at Matthew 25.

We also need structural engineers desperately – so that we can have someone assess the building that we are living in as well as the other buildings that will be used for relief efforts here.

We also need vehicles! We have set up a transport system here and we have all of the people in place to run the system. But we need vehicles! If you know of NGO’s or others working in Haiti who can allow us to use their vehicles, please contact Melinda miles at Konpay or David Diggs at Beyond Borders. They can contact me directly, here.

We also need satellite phones.

Saturday, Jan 16 7:00 AM

Urgent, Urgent, Urgent

The gunfire spread last night to our zone. It started at 1 am. It was off in the distance a ways when it first started but got closer and closer up until about 2:30 and then it seemed to stop. All of the homeless on the streets and in the refugee camps again met the chaos with loud singing, clapping and prayers.

haiti4I am at the Matthew 25 house in Delmas 33. We have set up a triage hospital here with more than 1,300 refugees on a soccer field. The people at Matthew 25 have been traveling all over the city trying to figure out what clinics and hospitals are operational, what services they can provide and what needs they can fill.

There is no visible coordination effort from international agencies on the ground. No planes came in yesterday. One of my coordinating partners, AMURT-Haiti, worked to find a plane of 30-40 doctors and supplies that could come, but the plane was not allowed to land in the Port-au-Prince airport. We have teams in the Dominican Republic with truckloads of supplies, but they were stopped at the border and were not allowed entry.

The situation here is desperate and getting restless. The John Hopkins Students who were visiting Rights based Haiti and AMURT when the earthquake hit have been doing surveys and assessments of the clinics and refugee camps. The survey they conducted two days ago shows that none of the people in the camps had food or water to last more than a day.

Here at Matthew 25, we have been doing amputations and other surgeries with no painkillers, no anesthesia, nothing to work with. There are no tools for our doctors. We have numerous Haitian doctors and nurses here but no supplies! We have run out of antibiotics twice then found them by searching at nearby clinics run by missions and NGOs.

We have heard nothing from MINUSTAH. I have not seen any of the international agencies on the ground. I have seen Belgian doctors and Cuban doctors all doing amazing work – but we have not seen or received any contact or assistance from outside agencies ourselves.

The city has run out of water and food – but the biggest problem is gas and diesel. At Matthew 25, there is no diesel to run the generator. We are using the last power that the inverter has, but that may cut out at any moment. The little fuel that trickles in to the one or two gas stations that are open is the subject of fights that will soon become rioting. Our own vehicles are all down to their last drop.

I have sent one of my trusted staff to find gas this morning. I am afraid for him. There is no way for him to communicate with me because there is no phone service in the country. Now we are also running out of money. I gave my last cash today to pay for gas, a little bit of food, and a spare tire for one of our vehicles to replace one that was stolen. The nearest Western Union is two hours north in St. Marc and we are not sure if that is still functioning.

An added pressure on the city right now is that, due to the lack of communications, many people from the provinces are coming to search for their loved ones, but they only add to the numbers of people who are then stuck in Port-au-Prince with no food, no water, and no way out.

All of the problems that come with catastrophe, we are experiencing now. How do we dispose of the bodies and the human waste? How do we move people out of the city? Everyone is afraid it might rain because they think that the first rain will move the earth under the standing houses, and they will fall as well. Every day more things fall.

I am coordinating with AMURT, KONPAY, Beyond Borders, Matthew 25, and many other partners on an integrated response that will help us get through the next week. The looming problem is security in the coming months.

We have coordinated the shipment of diesel from the open port in Cap-Haitian. A shipping company will haul fuel from the Dominican Republic to Port-au-Prince and we have found a large protected storage compound to store it. We have Haitian volunteers working with the John Hopkins team. Their job is to provide us important data on the numbers and locations of people who are in need of medical care, so that when help and supplies arrive, we are able to efficiently get people to where they need to go.

We have worked with grassroots leaders in Commune Anse Rouge to gather information on family members who might still be trapped in Port-au-Prince.  When we have names and locations, each village will send one or two people to search for the loved ones.

The Haitians are helping each other in glorious acts of compassion and kindness everywhere you look. These people have endured so much unspeakable and unnecessary suffering. I am today, as always, blessed to be walking with them in their struggle to overcome their awful and unfair circumstances, and am even more blessed to be sharing in the strength of spirit that makes each one of them my hero.

haiti2Saturday, Jan 16 1:16 PM

Assessing the Damage

Below you will find two assessments of local damage from teams on the ground in Jacmel (pop. 34,000) and around the Commune of Delmas, Delmas 31 (pop. 341,791) in Port-Au-Prince.

JACMEL

  • 1,785 homes completely destroyed
  • 4,410 homes partially destroyed
  • 87 commercial businesses destroyed
  • 54 schools destroyed
  • 24 hotels destroyed
  • 26 churches destroyed
  • 5,730 families displaced
  • Death count approaching 3,000 (nearly 10% of the population)

(Obstacles: Jacmel is currently unreachable by land routes due to collapsed areas on the road to Port-au-Prince at Tomb Gateau and St. Etienne. Until this afternoon the runway and airport were filled with people who had fled the ruins of the town, but the UN peacekeepers reportedly have the field clear now for their planes to land.)

COMMUNE OF DELMAS

Surveyors: Remle Stubbs-Dame and Lenka Heller

Infrastructure: 50-75% houses collapsed

Deaths: 10% death rate among population surveyed

Injuries: 5%-10% of population surveyed is critically injured and not receiving medical care

Immediate Needs:

  • Population will run out of food and water within 24-48 hours
  • Removal of deceased from streets
  • Potable water
  • Medical treatment of superficial wounds (alcohol, gauze, antibiotics, betadine)
  • High-calorie food
  • Sanitation/waste management

Status of population: At time of survey, the majority of the population was calm, understanding, and patient. Tension is rising quickly in settlements since most of them lack all immediate needs.

During the visual survey, which covered an area of approximately 500 square meters, observers noted a number of large camps and small settlements where people were gathering:

Camp 1: 5,000-13,000 inhabitants. 45% children. Food vendors are set up on either side and there is at least one day’s supply of water for most inhabitants. One medical team operating, but leaving Port-Au-Prince tomorrow. No one is running the camp.

Camp 2: 2000 inhabitants. 424 hurt, 44 gravely injured. No food, less than one day of water. No medical care. Contact: Lieu Parc Maguana Delmas 31, Rue Maguana, Tel 509-3400-7908, 3944-9594. In charge: Patrick Etienne, psychologist.

Camp 3: 2,000 inhabitants. 20% critically injured. 24 hour supply of food, no water, no medical care. Rue Saint Phare.

Settlement 1: 300-350 inhabitants. Mostly minor injuries. No food, water, medical care. Rue De Mabwa # 3 (empty lot).

Tuesday, Jan 19 1:08 PM

Kouraj Cherie

(Written by Sasha Kramer working with Amber Munger at Matthew 25 House)

This afternoon, feeling helpless, we decided to take a van down to Champs Mars (the area around the presidential palace) to look for people needing medical care. Our aim was to bring them back to Matthew 25, and the guesthouse that has been transformed into a field hospital. I was in awe as we walked downtown among the flattened buildings. In the shadow of the fallen palace, amongst the swarms of displaced people, there was calm and solidarity.

Haiti 1-19We wound our way through the camp asking for injured people who needed to get to the hospital. Despite everyone telling us we would be mobbed, I was amazed when people gently pointed us towards their neighbors, guiding us to those who were suffering the most.

We picked up five badly injured people and drove towards an area where Ellie and Berto had seen a woman lying on the side of the road with a broken leg, screaming for help. She was at the top of a hill surrounded by shattered houses. The sun was setting. Her neighbors lifted her onto a refrigerator door and carried her down to the van. One of the tough-looking guys in the group smiled as we drove away. “Bonswa Cherie,” he called out. “Kouraj.”

When we got back to Matthew 25 it was dark. We carried the patients back into the soccer field/tent village/hospital. The doctors there were officially closed down for the evening, but agreed to see our patients.  We came back into the house to find other doctors amputating a foot on the dining room table. The patient was awake but far away under the fog of ketamine.

Halfway through the surgery we heard a clamor outside. A large yellow truck was parked in front of the gate and rapidly unloading hundreds of bags of food over our fence. The crowd had already begun to gather. Knowing that we could not sleep in the house with all of this food and so many starving people in the neighborhood, Amber (who is experienced in food distribution) snapped into action and began to get everyone into a line that stretched down the road.

We braced ourselves for the fighting that we had heard would come but in a miraculous display of restraint and compassion people stayed in line. One by one, they took the food bags without a single serious incident.

During the food distribution, the doctors asked if anyone could help to bury the amputated leg in the backyard.  As I have no experience with food distribution I offered to help with the leg. I went into the back with Ellie and Berto and we dug a hole and placed the leg in it, covering it with soil and cement rubble.  By the time we got back into the house the food had all been distributed and the patient Anderson was waking up.  The doctors asked for a translator so I went and sat by his stretcher explaining to him that the surgery had gone well and he was going to live.

His family had gone home so Ellie and I took turns sitting with him as he came out from under the drugs.  I sat and talked to Anderson for hours as he drifted in and out of consciousness.  At one point one of the Haitian men working at the hospital leaned over Anderson and said to him in kreyol “Listen man, even if your family could not be here tonight, we want you to know that everyone here loves you, we are all your brothers and sisters.”

Cat and I have barely shed a tear through all of this. The sky could fall and we would not bat an eye; but when I told her this story this morning the tears just began rolling down her face, as they are mine as I am writing this.

Sometimes it is the kindness and not the horror that can break the numbness that we are all lost in right now. So, don’t believe Anderson Cooper when he says that Haiti is a hotbed for violence and riots. That is just not the case.  In the darkest of times, Haiti has proven to be a country of brave, resilient and kind people, and that behavior is far more prevalent than the isolated incidents of violence.

Please pass this on to as many people as you can so that they can see the light of Haiti cutting through the darkness, the light that will heal this nation.


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