Rumours of the approaching storm reached Vaughan Woodward in Cairns, Australia via online media. He kept a close eye on the weather reports as the Hurricane Mathew gathered pace – increasing in size and ferocity and as it headed towards the Caribbean island.
Phone calls were exchanged and information slowly trickled in from MAF’s Haiti programme and international offices. In Port-au-Prince, the team secured the fleet and prepared to baton down the hatches.
The category 4 hurricane struck the south westerly tip of Haiti early in the morning of 4 October 2016. The eye of the storm carved a path across Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula, devastating everything in its way. Flying over one of the worst-hit areas a few days later, Vaughan was struck by the sight of thousands of mature palm trees toppled like matchsticks.
Survey flights had already commenced to identify the hardest hit areas by the time Vaughan arrived. With a wealth of local knowledge and a network of Haitian and international partners, MAF’s established flight operation was well positioned to assist.
A generous grant early on from the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) along with supporters' donations allowed the team to step up operations quickly, bringing in extra pilots and engineering staff to reach populations in need. Vaughan joined the busy team, and for the next month worked hard assisting partners and enabling as many flights as possible each day.
MAF’s Hurricane Matthew response
The situation on the ground was desperate – three years of severe drought had already taken their toll on people who now had very little in reserve. Nearly half were hungry before the hurricane ripped through the rich fruit-and-vegetable-producing Sud and Grand’Anse departments – stripping agricultural land and destroying, homes, schools and businesses. The level of hunger soared.
People got increasingly desperate as the days ticked by. In some locations, the arrival of aid was accompanied by riots and there were reports of convoys being looted as desperate people intercepted them on the road.
MAF’s early flights carried medical workers, food supplies, temporary shelters and chainsaws to help clear the fallen debris. With roads and bridges washed away, one NGO team described how they were forced to make a dangerous river crossing in three feet of rushing water to conduct a survey.
MAF can provide critical assistance in these early days when help is desperately needed but travel is difficult, dangerous or impossible. 'We are not a fire station,' explains John Woodberry, another member of MAF's Disaster Response Team – using the term meteorically, 'but we have an internal surge capacity which allows us to send trained, experienced pilot, engineers and logistics staff quickly to where they are needed'.
‘I've been flying and serving in Haiti for 21 years, and I've certainly never seen anything like the devastation of Hurricane Matthew. Familiar places are almost unrecognisable… There will be a surge for the immediate relief efforts, but there are going to be long-term development projects that need to take place to re-establish housing and businesses, and agriculture.’ MAF Haiti Programme Manager David Carwell
One month later
After a month, Vaughan explained that roads and bridges were beginning to reopen thanks to assistance from the US army. As soon as this happened, the demand for cargo flights tailed off, although urgent medical supplies and cold-chain goods still require ongoing air-cargo support.
‘But we actually ended up flying three times as many people as we anticipated’ Vaughan interjected, ‘as humanitarian organisations used MAF to swap staff in and out of the areas where they were working.’
Lucy Bamforth who works with Medair was one of these workers who used MAF’s service to travel back and forth from Tiburon Commune, in the southwest of Haiti where Medair was providing emergency relief to families.
‘Between 17 October and 16 November we distributed 2,300 hygiene and shelter kits to storm-affected families in Tiburon Commune. These kits contain materials needed to carry out basic repairs on storm damaged or destroyed homes (wiring, tarps, nails, and ropes) and keep a family safe from waterborne diseases (soap, washing powder, water filters and water purification tablets).’
‘MAF flight staff are always upbeat and cheerful (just what we need after many long, hot days in the field!) and very professional. We know we are always safe in when we travel with MAF!’
‘Haiti Bible Mission is able to do what they do because MAF brings us here. MAF brings us our groups. MAF brings us our supplies. What we need is all brought to us by MAF. They're a huge part of our ministry and our ministry wouldn't be possible without them.’ Blake Stone, Haiti Bible Mission
Raphael Bonnaud and his colleagues working with the Red Cross in Jeremie, an area devastated by the hurricane, flew there with MAF; saving days of exhausting overland travel.
‘The roads are pretty bad, especially these last days with the rain,’ Raphael explained. ‘Before it took us six hours to go and now it’s even longer. Because of the security situation, with the upcoming elections it’s important for us to fly our staff safety rather than take the road. A one hour flight can be one or two days by car. It changes everything…’
‘A big thanks to MAF and all the people who donated, and DFID. For us in the Red Cross movement it’s a big help to implement our activity and allow us to go faster.’
One of the most memorable moments for Vaughan was witnessing the volunteers from Foundation for the Education and the Rebirth of Haiti (FERHA) as they unloaded much-needed supplies at Dame Marie airstrip.
The residents there, some of the poorest and hardest hit, had lost everything – crops, animals, and houses. Many had travelled for hours on foot, from even more remote communities, in search of food. The volunteers portioned out the supplies at the airstrip so they could be distributed fairly amongst the many needy families. There were many other examples of churches and charities with projects embedded in remote communities using MAF to help as much as they possibly could.
‘Even today, though we do not operate there often, when the plane lands, a hopeful crowd gathers.’Michael Broyles, about landing in Dame Marie
Six months after the hurricane
Six month on from the hurricane, MAF is still flying into the hurricane-affected area but because roads are now open and supplies can be delivered more efficiently by truck, there is less demand for flights.
‘I can attest that the one airstrip in particular, Dame Marie, was hard hit by the hurricane,’ pilot Michael Broyles shares. ‘When the aircraft landed, people rushed to it as it was their only source of food for months. Without MAF, people would have starved. Even today, though we do not operate there often, when the plane lands, a hopeful crowd gathers.’
People wait expectantly because of the scale of the ongoing need. With two thirds of the farming capacity gone, soaring food prices, an estimated 1.5 million people still classified as ‘food insecure’ and 280,000 severely, the population continues to struggle.
Continuing his assessment of the situation Michael said, ‘I have received two reports this week that people are literally starving to death – still with no roof over their heads, no livestock, and destroyed gardens that produced no harvest. Another lady emailed last night and said that the people in Dame Marie have resorted to eating boiled leaves…the gardens have yet to be replanted.’
Michael shared the following prayer requests:
- Roads are open again and trucks are carrying provisions to remote areas, but without resources to purchase food/livestock/seeds/tin, the people are struggling to rebuild their lives. Ask God for His provision for the people of Haiti
- As we approach the rainy season again, pray for those living in temporary shelters because they have not been able to rebuild their homes
- Pray for the continued recovery of Haiti – that people would come together to find long-term solutions to the poverty and climate vulnerability
- Pray that the light of Jesus would shine in dark places in Haiti and that His name would be a hope for the nation.
Before Hurricane Matthew:
After Hurricane Matthew: