Friday around noon, the rain stopped. All 73 of us emerged from our cooped up resting places and stood on the roof of the base, trying to catch a peep of the effects of the storm that surely were harsher than what we had endured. At 1pm, the staff had deemed it safe for us to wander out into the community; in fact, they encouraged us to do so. What I found were streets running like raging rivers, and a populace straddling the thick line between utter shock and business-as-usual.
On the intersection between Grand Rue and the national highway, everyone stood on the high concrete banks and watched the convergence of three rivers rushing from higher ground, all rushing downhill through Leogane towards the sea. The sense in the air was downright eerie. While some were busy setting their businesses back up and sweeping their steps of debris, many more were on edge, folks squeezed out of some of the 220 IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps in Leogane of which many are unfittingly located in flood plains. A few political campaigns capitalized on this moment of vulnerability, parading through town in convoys of motorbikes and trucks covered in posters, veering across streets and screaming through bullhorns that their candidate wouldn’t have allowed this to happen.
The following day, a crew of All-Hands staff hit the town to assess the damage while the rest of us busily set our base back up, pulling tools and materials out from their storm storage places. This contradicted the natural urge to rush out like white knights with spades and buckets in hand, but it makes complete sense. There was no doubt that the needs of the community were great, but without assessing precisely where the abilities of our organization could be best put to use- and in a safe manner-, we could end up doing more harm than good. The assessment team found that there were a few parts of town which were particularly hard hit, areas which include the homes of many of the local volunteers whom we work alongside every day.
That evening, a number of the local volunteers came back to base with deeply sullen faces. Junior, a young lad of 19 who has spent the last several months volunteering at All-Hands with everything from building schools to clearing rubble sites to helping at the baby orphanage, had the displeasure of finding that his home had been completely swept out by flooding, every one of his and his family’s possessions gone except for what they were wearing on their backs. This was a home which he had rebuilt for his mother, sister and himself following the earthquake. First thing the next day, however, Junior was again in the community, working along with a crew to clear out home after home of mud, cleaning the halls and restoring a sense of decency. Junior simply explains that his situation is the same as everyone else therefore there is no reason to dwell on his misfortune.
Today, I was in a crew that went to clean out the sole permanent hospital that serves the 200,000+ population of Leogane and area. We were immensely saddened to find a hospital that was completely incapacitated by a thick layer of toxic sludge coating the entire lower level. The emergency room, pediatric ward, supply rooms, offices, waiting rooms- everything, rendered completely defunct. We set to work shuffling all the furniture and supplies between rooms, starting with spades and wheelbarrows then following with brooms, buckets upon buckets of water, squeegees and finally bleach. We carted out truckloads of medical supplies- gauzes, plasters, syringes, gloves, …- and committed the tragedy of throwing out medical supplies which were senselessly ruined by the flooding, salvaging what was protected in plastic wrappers. Senseless I say because a few dozen sandbags and an afternoon of work would have prevented this ruin and allowed the hospital to immediately reopen following what could have been a very deadly storm. While it is tempting to be frustrated with the management of the hospital, they are of extremely limited resources and essentially running on fumes- a handful of paid doctors and nurses, a crew of maintenance workers, and the odd spurt of volunteer efforts.
Tomorrow we are hoping to complete the cleaning of the hospital so that they can resume operations. Crews will continue to assist families clearing out their houses of muds. By the end of the week, we likely will move on from the relief efforts for this latest disaster to strike the residents of Leogane, again focussing on the long term effects of the earthquake and the profound pre-existing development needs.