Hurricane Ike adds to Haiti flooding already created by Fay, Gustav and Hanna; MAF focusing on areas with airstrip access

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GONAIVES, Haiti-09-08-08-As if Tropical Depressions Fay and Gustav and Tropical Storm Hanna were not damaging enough, Hurricane Ike hit here Saturday evening and Sunday, dumping more rain on already flooded and soaked land.

Even before Ike struck, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilots estimated the damage to be greater than that of Hurricane Jeanne in 2004.

MAF operates several airstrips in Haiti. The ministry's airstrip in Gonaives, located 170 kilometers north of Port-au-Prince, lay under some eight feet of water late last week. The remaining MAF airstrips in the area were reported to be operational, albeit muddy.

Reports received Saturday and Sunday were that water levels in Gonaives were rising again. New areas have been flooded, and roads that were difficult, but passable, are now impassable throughout Haiti. Several bridges have been knocked out, cutting off Gonaives, as well as the Central Plateau.

MAF pilot Will White has received calls from many stranded people seeking evacuation. Most are in Gonaives or other areas with no airstrip and are only accessible by helicopter. One pastor was stranded atop his water tower before he was rescued. Orphans in the Artibonite Valley also are seeking help.

In addition to flooding, waterborne illnesses are likely to plague the area.

"The greatest threat is to infants and the elderly," White said.

"Right now MAF is focusing on how we can serve missionaries who have access to air strips," White said. "Mark Williams, manager of the MAF Haiti program, was able to deliver 40 pounds of infant formula and other baby supplies to missionaries in Pignon that cannot get to Cap-Haitian or Port-au-Prince.

"This week, we will be hearing from mission and church groups that will need supplies. The emphasis will be on prioritization, as the extent of the damage and loss of life becomes known. We estimate it will be another week before the full picture and a longer term response plan for MAF in relief and rehabilitation is clear," White said.

MAF is in contact with Air Calvary, a ministry that specializes in the provision of helicopters. It is trying to bring in a helicopter from the Dominican Republic. MAF has also been contacted by Missionary Flights International about bringing down a DC-3 for delivery of supplies. In addition, MAF is coordinating with Samaritan's Purse.

"We expect in the next couple of days to increase flying of supplies in the Central Plateau, and possibly Jacmel and Les Cayes," White reported. The Central Plateau is cut off from all supplies from Cap-Haitian and Port-au-Prince.

Thursday, Sept. 4, was the first day MAF was permitted to transport missionaries to aid storm victims.

Aviation gas (avgas) is readily available, but its rising cost ($6 a gallon) continues to be an issue. Each plane consumes 18 gallons an hour, so funding is needed in this emergency situation, White said.

MAF is seeking prayers for the victims, as well as for the missionaries who are ministering to the unchurched and providing aid.

"To be able to witness about Christ to those we help is an amazing opportunity," White said.