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A destroyed island home in the Louisiana Bayou. Jerry Klassen

A destroyed island home in the Louisiana Bayou. Jerry Klassen

MCC and MDS respond to hurricane devastation

Scott Sundberg and Cheryl Zehr Walker
September 9, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) are accepting donations for emergency response to the recent hurricanes and tropical storms in the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast area.

MCC is responsible for organizing disaster response efforts in international settings. MDS is responsible to organize disaster response in Canada, the United States and their territories.

The two organizations work together closely in determining how each can help the other in responding when this is beneficial.

MCC is specifically accepting donations for the Caribbean country of Haiti, where the recent hurricanes and tropical storms have killed hundreds of people and left hundreds of thousands without food, clean water and shelter.

MCC is working through a partner organization, Sant Kretyen Developman Entegre (Christian Center for Integrated Development, known as SKDE), to distribute water, food, medicine and health kits in northwestern Haiti, the area hardest hit. The northwestern city of Gonaïves remains flooded from hurricanes Gustav and Hanna.

"Haiti has been hit hard overall, and Gonaïves the most significantly. The government and the U.N. are struggling to keep up with the demands for help, especially because access is so difficult," said Mark Epp, MCC’s associate director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to Epp, MCC workers have not been able to travel to the north from headquarters in Port-au-Prince, the capital city. Heavy rains on Sunday brought down a key bridge, severing the only viable land route to Gonaïves. Many bridges in other areas of Haiti have also collapsed and homes have been washed away and crops ruined.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is unusually vulnerable to damage from storms because much of its forests has been chopped down and used for fuel, allowing rainwater to easily wash down its mountains and cause massive flooding.

Epp said MCC will continue to monitor the effects of tropical storms on Haiti and other Caribbean and Central American countries and seek ways to help. MCC has committed $35,000 for the initial Haiti response.

Donations to MCC should be designated "Hurricanes – international response" and may be made online at mcc.org/donate or at any MCC office.

MDS is actively responding to recent hurricanes that impacted Louisiana and Mississippi, and has an emergency response team working in Baton Rouge.

In Pass Christian, Mississippi, MDS project directors reported that the town and area look pretty good, with some trash/debris around. The MDS site is fine, as well. There is electricity, but no phones.

In conversation with FEMA, MDS is assessing the damage and has begun an initial response "to give a few people a little hope in the midst of this disaster," said Jerry Klassen, MDS disaster response coordinator.

MDS will establish work sites in partnership with other agencies and their case work systems. Many, especially elderly, are stranded without food, power and the ability to move around.

After the initial assessment MDS hopes to know if the other crews can be invited to join and serve.

MDS is also evaluating the next steps for Des Allemandes and Pointe Aux Chenes, La., while also standing at the ready in anticipation of responding to the potential impacts of Hanna, Ike and Josephine.

The full extent of damage is unknown in the Point Aux Chenes area, although initial reports are that damage is as bad or worse than damage from Katrina. In talks with the Louisiana Coastal Tribal Coalition, Chief Marlene Foret reports that she cannot travel the whole way into her community because of water on the roads.

Chief Albert Naquin reports that because there is no water on Isle de Jean Charles they cannot start clean up. There is mud everywhere. Only two families out of about 60 are on the island now. In the first quarter mile of the island there are eight unlivable houses.

Gulfhaven Mennonite Church pastor Nelson Roth reports that in Gulfhaven, Miss., "Compared to Katrina, only a few trees are down and water issues either don't exist or are only measured in inches and not feet. The mail is being delivered, garbage trucks are running their routes and all schools are back in session."