Ailish O’Reilly is Haven’s Programmes Manager in Haiti. She was on the island of Île à Vache off the south coast of Haiti when Hurricane Matthew hit this week. Here, she tells us of the experience and of the devastation caused to the community.
TUESDAY | DAY TWO
The eye of the hurricane has passed over and, from 10:30am onwards, the wind steadily decreases. It is amazing how little 40mph winds seem from the screaming 145mph of 5am this morning.
My neighbour takes me down the hill to link up with everyone and confirm we are all okay. My first sight is the ruins of my two neighbours’ houses. I clamber over the rubble of the neighbours’ shower and out the yard.
I am stunned by the vista that greets me. Along with my gross misconception that the eye of the hurricane is quiet, I always thought trees fell together in one direction, like the storms we see at home in Ireland. Not so in a hurricane.
Trees have fallen in every direction and every angle, some lying across the others. Some are upheaved with three to four foot diameter root systems; others are shorn out of their roots in the neat circumference of the tree trunk. Down the valley and as far as my eye can see, across the island, trees, gardens of crops, and plants have been decimated. In the post-hurricane wind and rain, one person remarks that our “once green island is now grey”. This hill I now descend is unrecognisable from the one I climbed yesterday to take refuge from the storm.
My heart is broken. I have no Kreyol to express to my friends and neighbours how this feels for me.
Below, nearer the village, our Chache Lavi office has been damaged and is completely flooded. Less than one month ago, we held an exhibition here of our new businesses, buoyed up by support and the energy that comes from achievement. Today, in the same garden, the roof of the neighbouring house sits almost intact on the ground.
A priority for Damien and I is to try to get word home, but all networks are down. Through pre-arranged channels, we get a short message out and we are ever grateful to our Country Director, John Moore, for ensuring our families all know that we are safe. It will be days before we see all the goodwill and messages from friends and family.
Our evacuation team from Monday morning heads out to visit the village; we are now the evaluation team. Along with visiting the village, we head to the mayor’s office to request an office space to set up our centre of operations. We will work with the mayor and his office, with the primary goal of supporting him and the people of Île à Vache. This will be a major recovery operation to coordinate, with the risk of becominng a full humanitarian disaster. Initial reports from the Civil Defence to the mayor suggest that, miraculously, there are no fatalities.
Heading further out from the town, we see a house where the walls and pillars collapsed and the roof is lying on the rubble. In underneath, huddled over the open fire, is the woman of the house, cooking their lunch. They spent the night at a neighbour’s house and are now homeless, like many others on the island.
The roads are wet and mucky. Trees are down everywhere, causing many diversions in and around houses. Debris is scattered all over.
I return home and pack a small bag. It is already decided that I will move down the hill to the same house as Damien, and let my neighbour’s family live in my house until they find an alternative. There are eight in their household and only one of me: it is easy arithmetic.
The rain continues to fall in heavy downpours so, once relocated, we pretty much stay put for the afternoon. We sit around and talk about the night of the hurricane; sharing our stories is a type of catharsis for us all.
Night falls and everyone sits together in one room. The front door, swollen in the dampness, doesn’t close or open properly. We move on to banter and discussion about the plights and woes of Haiti. We know this is a process our friends need to go through and is a discussion we have heard before after the earthquake in 2010, after Hurricane Isaac, then Sandy in 2012, and now after Matthew.
It is a windy and wet night outside. Rain continues to come in the broken windows. Our beds are all damp, and we put towels down first to try and give us some semblance of a dry place to rest. After two minutes, I turn upside down in the bed. The rain on my head is keeping me awake; I reckon that, if I turn my feet to the broken window, I’ll have a better chance of rest. Somewhere, between 11pm and midnight, the houses quieten as, one by one, we drift off to fitful and restless sleep.
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