Church and civil authorities, as well as aid agencies, are rallying together to support rescue and relief efforts in Haiti following a powerful earthquake that has left hundreds dead and caused massive damage in the Caribbean nation.
By Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Authorities in Haiti have declared a state of emergency after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the country on Saturday, killing over a thousand people, injuring thousands of others, and leaving a trail of destruction and rubble.
The earthquake affected the southwestern part of the Caribbean nation, buckling roadways and flattening entire communities, especially in the region in and around the town of Les Cayes. According to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake’s epicenter was about 78 miles (125km) west of the capital of Port-au-Prince.
As of Sunday, the death toll had climbed to over 1,200, with at least 5,700 injured, creating a huge strain on already overloaded hospitals. Thousands more have been displaced from their destroyed or badly damaged homes as rescue workers engage in frantic efforts to provide assistance for survivors.
Haitians fear that the devastation could get worse with the coming on Tropical Depression Grace, which is predicted to hit the country on Monday. The USGS warns that, though Grace had weakened from tropical storm strength on Sunday, it could still bring heaving rains, flooding and landslides.
Caritas in action
Following Saturday’s earthquake, Caritas Haiti sprung into action, mobilizing teams to reach the most affected areas, particularly within the dioceses of Jérémie, Les Cayes and Anse-à-Veau Mirogoane. However, aid operations are complicated due to poor roads and the high level of insecurity in the country.
Caritas reports that many churches have been damaged by the earthquake. In Les Cayes, the residence of Cardinal Chibly Langlois, bishop of the diocese, was damaged, and the cardinal was injured. A priest staying in the Bishop’s residence was crushed and killed under the rubble.
In an interview on Sunday, Bishop Joseph Gontrand Décoste, SJ of Jérémie noted the shock of the people at the destruction caused by the earthquake, which damaged several homes, churches and even the Cathedral – all of which will have to be repaired or rebuilt.
He further noted that many of the people are currently forced to stay under trees or in open areas to protect themselves from the aftershocks that trail the earthquake.
Director of Caritas Haiti, Father Jean-Hervé François, notes that “the needs of the population are immense” as there is “an absolute demand for food, water, tents, hygiene kits and first aid.”
Caritas Internationalis has also launched a fund raising campaign to support the work of Caritas Haiti as a sign of global solidarity, to bring necessary support to the victims of the crisis.
Solidarity with Haiti
At the Angelus Prayer on Sunday in the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to Haitians and offered prayers for the victims of Saturday’s earthquake. The Holy Father also urged the international community to show support and solidarity to help the country lighten the consequences of the tragedy.
In similar manner, the US Bishops’ Conference (USCCB) has expressed its solidarity with Haiti. In a statement signed by USCCB President, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the bishops offered their “heartfelt prayers for the people of Haiti who are mourning the loss of loved ones and are suffering from the destruction caused by the earthquake.”
“We stand in solidarity with the Church in Haiti in offering our prayers, in a particular way this weekend as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin,” Archbishop Gomez said.
“In these moments of continued trial, may you feel the comfort, compassion, and embrace of our Blessed Mother. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, patroness of Haiti, intercede for us!”
Haiti is still contending with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July, as well as a situation of socio-economic and political instability, further exacerbated by coronavirus.
The country has been struggling to rebuild after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed over 220,000 people, injured 300,000 and displaced over 1.5 million in 2010.
Meanwhile, the UN called for a humanitarian corridor to be established through the nation’s gang-infested areas to enable aid to flow to the southern regions hit by the earthquake.
Both the UN and the Haitian government have struggled to send supplies and doctors by road to the hard-hit town of Les Cayes due to security concerns caused by a spike in kidnappings and gang violence along some roads in Port-au-Prince.
UNICEF representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes, explained that the humanitarian corridor will “allow quicker and safer transfer of goods and people” and called on the armed groups to allow aid to reach those in need “as soon as possible.”
In a separate statement, Maes expressed UNICEF’s solidarity with families and children during this difficult time and said that the agency is working with government and non-government partners to provide support to affected communities.