Hurricane Update # 6 – Tuesday Oct 11
We’re 3 days into our disaster relief work in the Savannette area.
Each day we’ve started at about 7am and cut trees until noon, by which time the heat is unbearable enough to force us to retreat (and recover) for a couple hours, somewhere safe from the sun’s beating rays.
We’ve been working hard to clear roads and chop down trees that fell on top of houses first, since that is a high priority. I can see that this task is going to take a while, so the chainsaw as well as plenty of manpower are going to be needed for a long time… I’m already thinking that once we get to a point where we have the roads cleared and trees out of people’s houses, it may become an avenue to hire some of the local men to work with us to continue cutting up the fallen trees.
On the topic of roofing, I am excited that a structural engineer has offered us his expertise and is currently working on plans for a new roof truss for the clinic. We’ve also had word of a donation coming in to help with buying supplies for it, which is wonderful news as well. There have been several mild injuries around here that could become infections if not treated, so we want to get the clinic functioning again as soon as possible. The engineer is also going to help me work up what rafters should look like on the various houses that are broken, as I would really like to make sure that any roofs we end (re)building are strong and sturdy.
Many people would like to restore their damaged houses, but I must admit that I’m scared to rebuild a house whose concrete blocks got knocked over in the wind. However, I also probably can’t convince them not to rebuild it the same way (at least not very easily), so I’m trying my best to come up with modifications that would at least make the structures safer, while still using some of the same building methods they are used to.
Speaking of which, we will need to buy lumber and tin soon. As we’ve been cutting, we’ve tried to keep our eyes open for any wood that we could scavenge, but I’m beginning to realize that it’s not a practical plan. Turns out that most of the trees that fell are terrible for construction because the are too soft.
I also have yet to come up with a solution for the people whose houses were completely decimated, but I am working on getting prices to try and do at least small wooden shacks with tin walls as temporary shelters.
In other news from today, just as I was leaving to drive down into Les Cayes to get internet, we finally received reinforcements! Susan Frame and Gala Calisto had driven out from Jacmel to help us out a bit and deliver much needed supplies. So now we at least have some tarps, nails, roofing screws, etc. The plan is still to try and split into 2 crews, with one team working on tarping houses, and the other continuing clearing roads, while I send Gala to talk to the community and survey more houses for damage, since she speaks Kreyol much better than I do.
Aid is a very tricky thing though.
As I surveyed houses these past couple of days, I encountered a wide array of reactions.
At each house I would explain that “we are here to help”, but that we came with tools and manpower only, and that “we have few supplies and cannot give new tin roofing to everyone”. Surprisingly, some of the worst reactions I got were from people whose houses weathered the storm the best, as they seemed to think they are entitled to free supplies.
On the other hand, some of the best reactions came from families whose houses were flattened and were glad to have any help at all come to the area.
We have been quite clear to everyone that we came with little, and we can promise nothing, but what we do have (tools and manpower), we will gladly give.
Most people are extremely grateful.
As we were chainsawing today, we encountered a couple who had retired from their work in the US and moved back to Haiti. They had a giant tree fall on their house, which we were able to clear. They fed us bread, water, and even some AK100, which is a Maize-based porridge sort of thing, as a thank you.
Although it has been hot and tiring (and still a bit overwhelming), it’s moments like these that bring a smile to a weary (and very dirty) face. It’s kind of funny that since I’m the only one with a chainsaw, I’m also the only one at the end of the day completely covered in sawdust, but it’s all good.