Our Programmes Manager Ailish O’Reilly was on the island of Île à Vache when Hurricane Matthew struck. In her powerful series of blogs, she shares her experience of the emergency response.
FRIDAY | DAY TWELVE
Friday morning, and waiting for Godot – well, a US Marine helicopter actually – so I’m taking the time to write my blog. There has been a request for a number of entries into the blog today, including the damp matches that refuse to light every time John goes to put on the kettle for tea, John’s conversion to porridge, and the attack of the mosquitoes every night in Damien’s house (we reckon the recipe of Baygon-Off and cheap aftershave is attracting, not killing, them!).
On our walk to work, we note that the roof is back on the Chache Lavi office, and the team heads there to do a full clean-out and disinfect for mould. The office needs to be painted, and we will get a carpenter to take a look at reassembling the desks; if not, we will just have to buy two more. The window needs to be fixed before we can move back in on Monday to be ready for Tuesday morning.
We visit the orphanage on the way down. Sr Flora lines up the children by calling “Guatanamo, Guantanamo!”, and John dispenses the now obligatory daily sweet ration. Terre Sans Frontières (TSF) engineers are writing up the structural repair report: the wall is the biggest item, and the other buildings only need minor repairs. With food and medicine in the depot, they are in good shape for this week.
We are still trying to get a cholera centre in operation: we need a tent and are reaching out to all our contacts. We know that if cases start to arrive, it will become critical very quickly.
I head back out to see Jean Nexon and his mother Deulita. One of the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), Cody, and Jesse, a regular visitor to Île à Vache, come with me. We sponge-bathe Jean Nexon, moisturise his dry skin, and dress him. Cody and Jesse clean and dress both his and his mother’s wounds. They bring blankets: I have water and we have some Meals of Hope to send out to them.
The lads tidy up the container in anticipation of a helicopter deliver of 1,000 tarpaulins. With those in the distribution chain, we could move directly on to permanent shelter solutions, so we delay our trip to Port au Prince to receive these at Madame Bernard.
While we wait, there is a steady stream of requests from individuals and from zone representatives. Some we can help; others are already on the list for the next distribution runs. We are all out of stock for the moment, as our last shipment is ready to load and take to Cavaillon. We stick on a bit of Christy Moore and then Bob Marley to pass the time.
Any distant sound at all and we are checking the skies. This is the third day in a row we have heard of this shipment, so hopefully third time is a charm!
After this shipment, it is on to Cavaillon where I will get my first sighting of the aftermath of Matthew, beyond what I have seen at the port in Les Cayes. And then we will drive to Port au Prince, bringing electricity, hot water, and limitless wifi access! There are rumours of a day off: I imagine it will be split shift like yesterday, but we will take what we can get.
As we sit here in the office, for some reason, the butterfly effect springs to mind: you know the one that flapped their wings in far-off lands and caused Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. I have a good friend that, at the relevant juncture, would pronounce in a solemn voice “in accordance with the prophecy”, causing us all to disintegrate into tears of laughter.
It is the stress of disaster that knits us more closely together as a team: I’m very proud of all my friends and colleagues here. In turn, we are extremely grateful to all our friends, families and supporters at home in Ireland and around the world: you have our back and we really appreciate it.
PS: The helicopter arrived, but did not land and the unloading of the aid was a total mess. We have to re-plan the whole operation. After waiting until late afternoon, our depots are empty, and it is too late to head to Port au Prince. One step up two steps back.