Salvation Army Disaster Relief Worker Gives First-Hand Account of Hurricane Matthew

hurricaine matthew destroys house in Haiti
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On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew struck southwestern Haiti destroying close to 200,000 homes and leaving 14 million people in need of humanitarian aid. The Salvation Army was on the ground in Haiti immediately, providing basic food items and treatment through its clinic to people who were injured.

As the extent of the devastation became clear, international Salvation Army emergency services personnel were deployed to participate in community assessments, formulate projects and distribute food and non-food items to those devastated by the tragedy.

Major Bill Barthau, a Salvation Army officer/pastor, was one of two Canadians asked to support recovery efforts over a seven-week period.

Haiti hurricane web 2“Our initial visit to La Fosse, a rural small-plot farming community on the southwest Peninsula of Haiti, resulted in a firsthand view of damaged and destroyed houses, trees, and crops,” says Major Barthau. “Roads were cluttered with debris and electricity lines were down. We had numerous conversations with the local citizens and the challenges they faced. 

“Later, our support at a community food distribution was undertaken in an area with a large crowd that grew to more than 450 families. Here I met Lorvens, 10, who clung to his mother’s side, visibly distraught. There was no school and he couldn’t help replant the family garden because their tools were lost and there was nowhere to get seed. They looked for ways to survive, one day at a time.

 “The damage to coconut, mango and other trees made me aware that it would be many years before the area would recover. Charcoal was now being made with all the fallen trees. I wondered how families would manage in six months’ time due to little firewood for cooking, which is the normal form of food preparation. Banana suckers were already starting to grow and would replenish those destroyed. Crops such as rice, beans and corn could be replanted but the present crop was not harvestable. School fees are always a challenge and the hurricane has impacted so many. Most schools do not receive government support so this is a challenge to the schools financial status and teacher’s salary. Life will continue, but it will be a huge challenge for so many.

“It was a privilege and humbling experience to support and interact with communities and local leaders as they respond to this disaster and see that there is hope.”