Haiti: 300,000 left homeless

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(Washington DC) 15 January, 2010 - Three days after a devastating earthquake virtually destroyed Haiti's capital city of Port-au-Prince, Jesuit Refugee Service has at least 16 people on the ground in Haiti and working with the displaced on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Fr Kawas François SJ, the Jesuit Superior for Haiti, shared with us his impressions of the devastation wrought by the earthquake

The situation becomes more critical in Port-au-Prince. Pe o ple lack everything: water, food, blankets and tents. They sleep in the streets. In shock, they are afraid of going into houses and experts advise that it should stay away from home for some time. People are still under the rubble. The dead are in the streets and under the rubble. Sanitary conditions are deteriorating. We need help urgently to prevent a humanitarian disaster. ...

I just went around the city and then met with the Apostolic Nuncio to evaluate the situation. The Catholic Church in Port-au-Prince is strongly affected: the Archbishop and the Vicar General are dead, some priests, nuns and some six major seminarians are dead. The two buildings of the Major Seminary: Cazeau and Turgeau collapsed. Several churches and rectories, several major local high schools belonging to religious congregations collapsed. The earthquake affected mainly the following communities: Port-au-Prince, Delmas, Carrefour, Cité Soleil. Others (Tabarre, Petion-Ville) are less affected, but with significant damage.

Because of the generosity of conce rned individuals, JRS has so far received donations of $116,000. All funds we raise for Haiti earthquake relief will directly aid those affected by the earthquake.

Organised as an international federation, JRS USA is working in partnership with the JRS Latin Amer ica and Caribbean Regional Office and the national offices in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which have begun relief operations with their own funds and stockpiled relief supplies. Over the next weeks, we expect that substantial additional commitments of support will be made through JRS offices worldwide. JRS Dominican Republic has already delivered water, food, and hygiene kits from their stock into Haiti. The fact that JRS already had people and projects in place has been a tremendous help.

The scale of destruction, with about three million people in affected areas, is pose a great challenge, especially in terms of coordination. The World Food Programme clarified that, contrary to some reports, there has been no looting of one of their warehouses. Communications remain a major challenge; the telecommunications industry has experts arriving.

Makeshift camps are being set up, and there will be a need for more camps, as at least 10% of the affected population - 300,000 people - are homeless. Jesuit Refugee Service believes any displaced Haitians, including those who may seek refuge elsewhere by making a perilous attempt to cross the sea, should be housed in Haiti or the Dominican Republic, and not be transported to offshore facilities such as Guantanamo Bay.

Fr Mario Serrano SJ, Dominican Republic Director, shared with us his impressions of the devastation wrought by the earthquake:

The commission in Jimani (southeast of Port-au-Prince, the closest point to Port-au-Prince in the Dominican Republic) told us the aid distributed from Dominican territory to Haiti will include: ambulances, amenities, hospital supplies, heavy equipment, and aid workers arriving from various organisations. The parish of the city is giving assistance to the Haitians who are discharged from hospital. The parish has become the centre of care for these wounded Haitians.

Later we moved on to Canape Vert, another community. The entire trip was horrible given the presence of so much destruction and the presence of corpses.

Port-au-Prince is completely destroyed. All state buildings are destroyed. This explains the lack of government response: the government is non-existent. The cathedral is completely destroyed.

The large park that is close to the Palacio Nacional (almost completely destroyed) is full of victims. It is a sea of people. Logistics still not established to feed all these people. Hopefully tomorrow there will be water aid, food and clothing for all these people. At day's end we saw that increased humanitarian aid was arriving.

Above all, we want those affected, our friends in the Lord, that we are with them at this time of sorrow ...