A Country Surviving Devastation
Several individuals from St. Mary’s had planned to go to Haiti in the fall of 2016; tragically, a Category 5, 145-mph hurricane hit Jeremie and the surrounding area on October 4.
Hunger was a big problem before the storm but for months afterwards, it consumed everyone. The desperation was ubiquitous and extreme. Food distribution was very dangerous and crowd control extremely difficult. For this reason, we decided to cancel our fall trip. No one was able to reach the high mountain villages for weeks because even the goat and mule trails were not passable. Many elderly, especially women, died of exposure.
The Grand'Anse (the area where Jeremie is located) bore the brunt of Hurricane Matthew, becoming isolated after communications networks were cut. This worried many friends and families abroad as there was no way to communicate. Throughout this department alone, the hurricane destroyed or severely damaged 86,223 houses, which displaced about 99,400 families. Almost every tree in Grand'Anse was knocked down, while nearly all rivers were flooded. Nearly all of the crops, fruit trees, vegetables and coffee in the department were destroyed, and about half of all livestock were killed. Even the mangroves were completely lost or severely damaged which is where most of the fishing was done.
In Jeremie, the capital of the department, the strong winds ripped off nearly every roof, damaging 13,753 buildings. The hurricane decimated every building not made of concrete, including 90% of houses, and 80% of all structures. Floods in Jérémie inundated an orphanage, forcing 123 children to be evacuated, and 141 roads were damaged. Poorly-built houses in the country had thatched or tin roofs which blew away quickly and caused many deaths and severe injuries. One Haitian described it as a storm of razor blades with tin roofs slicing through the air. Most all of the rectories, churches and schools lost their doors, windows and roofs as well as all of their vital records.
Hurricane Matthew was the third strongest storm to ever ravage the country, so much so that there was no way to even count the number of dead.
In the storm's aftermath, humanitarian agencies had about 400 operations throughout Haiti to provide relief to storm victims. St. Mary’s sent thousands of dollars to purchase sheet metal to re-roof homes, clean water, rice, and other basic cooking supplies.