By Tom Tracy
Long Island’s Haitian American community is concerned about friends and relatives affected by the recent earthquake, and people want to help.
From her home in Uniondale on Long Island, Marjorie Janvier said she was on the phone with friends and relatives in Jérémie, Haiti, when she first heard reports of a tropical depression moving into the area.
“Just a few minutes ago I had a phone call with someone there, and they tell me there are a lot of people on the street and it is raining very badly,” Janvier told Catholic News Service late Aug. 16, two days after the magnitude 7.2 quake struck southwestern Haiti.
Janvier is a member of St. Martha Church in Uniondale and coordinator of Children of St. Louis Cathedral, a U.S. and Canadian charity bringing the Haitian diaspora from Jérémie together in support of charitable projects back in Haiti.
“Last night we had a meeting with the group, and we know we have a big project, but we don’t know exactly where to start, because they have so many problems; but we know we have to work hard to get something started quickly,” said Janvier.
She added that Father Marc Arthur Emile, a priest contact in Jérémie, indicated that the cathedral there and the related Catholic school suffered extreme structural damage.
Some tens of thousands of residents of southern Haiti are living out in the open following the quake, centered about 80 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The cities of Jérémie and Les Cayes were most affected. On Aug. 16 and 17, Tropical Depression Grace was expected to drop up to 10 inches of rain, with potential for floods and mudslides.
On Aug. 16, Haiti’s civil protection agency raised the death toll from the earthquake to 1,419 and the number of injured to 6,000. By Aug. 17, the death toll reached over 1,900.
“Some of them have some little tents, but not for sleeping in hard rain,” Janvier told CNS.
The major road connecting Les Cayes to Jérémie is impassable due to landslides and cracks on the road. The quake also leveled homes, leaving thousands without shelter. Countless others are injured and hospitals are already overwhelmed, according to staff at Catholic Relief Services, which has extensive operations in Haiti.
Sonia St. Rose-Bienvil, also a member of St. Martha Church, said she was cooking early Aug. 14 when she began to see the earthquake news through social media; she quickly phoned cousins and aunts to check on their safety, and she is getting requests to help with medications and supplies.
“To get help to Jérémie, you have to go to the capital, where they have the international airport, or we can send by boat, but that can take a long time,” St. Rose-Bienvil told CNS. She is president of Solidarity of Haitian Americans of Long Island, which sponsors education and other workshops for local Haitian Americans.
“We are thinking of communicating with pharmacies over there and get help paying for medications; people are afraid to go inside because it is constantly shaking,” she added.
“My husband has been talking with people down there now talking about aftershocks every few minutes, and the worst thing is the local hospital does not have enough supplies,” St. Rose-Bienvil added.
She is also concerned that the St. Louis Cathedral in Jérémie is in need of a new roof.
Also working the phones from Long Island was Oblate Father Fenelon Sylfrard, a Haitian priest on vacation in the U.S. but based at the College St. Paul in Les Coteaux, a high school in the Diocese of Les Cayes.
Father Sylfrard spoke about the situation during a homily Aug. 15 in Uniondale. He said part of his school is demolished and some of the students and faculty have lost their homes. Two faculty members were injured, and classes will have to eventually resume outdoors for the foreseeable future, he said.
“Most of the parishes suffered damages, but some of them were destroyed completely,” the priest said through a translator by telephone. “The Catholic seminary for the Oblates there was also completely destroyed; thank God the seminarians were on vacation.”
He plans to return to Haiti Aug. 25.
“When I go back we will have Masses outdoors and hopefully get enough help to rebuild the parishes and schools over there. The community will be in need of lots of help,” he said.