Excessive flooding blocks aid to hurricane victims in Haiti; MAF operations hampered

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GONAIVES, Haiti-09-05-08 - After a flyover of the Gonaives area of Haiti, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) has learned that flooding will temporarily prevent missionaries and relief workers from reaching victims stranded there. Slammed by Tropical Depressions Fay and Gustav, and most recently Tropical Storm Hanna, the damage appears to be worse than the record devastation caused by Hurricane Jeanne in 2004.

"There are about 110,000 people there, and the town is completely flooded from knee-deep to 10 feet of water," said Will White, MAF pilot. "A lot of the people have moved to the tops of their houses. The town is completely cut off by water."

Serving in Haiti since 1986, MAF supports Christian missions, the work of Haitian churches and their leaders, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Haiti.

MAF operates several airstrips in Haiti. The organization's air strip in Gonaives, located 170 kilometers north of Port-au-Prince, lies under approximately eight feet of water. Its remaining air strips in the area have been reported to be operational, though muddy.

Thursday was the first day MAF was permitted to begin transporting missionaries to aid storm victims in Haiti. Service had been suspended due to weather conditions, with the exception of a special permit granted Wednesday to survey damage to the area. According to White, missionaries are prepared and well stocked with supplies.

Aviation gasoline (avgas) is also readily available, although the rising cost continues to be an issue. While the supplies are good in Haiti, avgas costs about $6 a gallon. With each plane consuming 18 gallons an hour, costs add up quickly. Funding is needed to help MAF in this emergency situation, said White.

In addition to the excessive flooding and climbing death toll, waterborne illnesses are likely to plague the area and are an even greater concern for MAF. While aboard an MAF flight Wednesday, Red Cross personnel were able to send a text message to Geneva to gain approval for 20,000 inoculations. Already, more than 60 Haitians have been reported killed as a result of Tropical Storm Hanna.

"The biggest threat of waterborne illnesses is to infants and the elderly," said White. "These groups are going to be hit pretty hard."

MAF is asking for prayers for the tropical storm victims, as well as prayers for its missionaries who are ministering to the unchurched as they provide much-needed aid.

"We're flying a lot of non-Christian people, relief personnel from organizations like the Red Cross and other NGOs. To be able to put a headset on them and witness to them about Christ is an amazing opportunity," said White. "We also come in contact with a lot of government officials, and we're able to witness to them as well. We might not get that opportunity again."