Haiti: HFHI team is on the ground

In response to the Haiti Earthquake this is the first of a periodic series of updates to staff and affiliates of Habitat for Humanity

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, January 14, 2010 - An assessment team from Habitat for Humanity International currently is making its way to Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti and the epicenter of the quake destruction. They are driving from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, which shares the

island of Hispaniola with Haiti. If all goes well, the team will arrive in Port-au-Prince by late afternoon. However, travel is difficult and it is unclear if the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti will be open. The assessment team is being led by Mario Flores, director of field operations for HFHI's Disaster Response department. Joining him are Steve Little, communications director for the Latin America/Caribbean area office; and LAC staffers Javier Mayorga and Gerardo Morales. Upon arrival, they will make contact with staff from Habitat's National Organization in Port-au-Prince and begin an assessment of the quake's impact on low-income housing. They also will connect with peer organizations such as World Vision, World Concern and CARE that we typically work with in disaster situations. In addition, they will have regular meetings with the United Nations-sponsored shelter cluster, of which HFHI serves as one of just a handful of permanent members.

NATIONAL ORGANIZATION STATUS: To date, we have had contact with one N.O. staff member, who is based at a Habitat training center about eight hours from Port-au-Prince. He was able to report that at least 10 of the N.O.'s approximately 50 staff members had been accounted for. There is no word yet on the remaining staffers, and no word on whether the 10 staffers who were accounted for lost homes or family members. Late word this morning is that the N.O. office was destroyed by the quake; no assessment has been possible yet of the approximately 2,000 Habitat homes built in Haiti, nor of the status of those homeowners.

A PIECE OF GOOD NEWS: Chantal Hudicourt-Ewald, a former member of Habitat's International Board of Directors, lives in Port-au-Prince and was able to e-mail Wednesday that she and her family are safe. While we rejoice in their safety, the rest of Chantal's note provides a grim picture. She wrote: "God has been kind to my family. We are safe. We are the exception. The list of friends and neighbors who were killed is getting longer. There are bodies everywhere. It is a nightmare."

WHAT YOU CAN DO: First of all, pray-for the people of Haiti, for our teams there, for all of the humanitarian outreach efforts. If you can, please donate to support the response efforts. And, please, reach out to your friends, family, neighbors and communities to tell them that Habitat is mobilizing all available resources to help in Haiti, and that their support is urgently needed, would be much appreciated and would be put to efficient, effective use by Habitat. Many have asked about the need for volunteers. Volunteers are not being recruited or deployed at this time and will not be until more stability can be returned to the country and we can be more certain that volunteers would be safe. We did learn on Wednesday that a delegation from the Habitat affiliate in Lafayette, Indiana, USA that was in Haiti working with a sister affiliate was safe. We will provide more details about needs as the situation unfolds.