Crown Heights Haitians Hit Hard by Hurricanes

By Jackie Bischof
September 24, 2008

Hopelessness. That was the overwhelming emotion Johny Regice of Crown Heights heard in his uncle’s voice when he phoned him in Jacmel, Haiti last Tuesday. Regice said his, uncle, a plantation owner, told him his entire crop of bananas and corn was destroyed in the series of hurricanes and tropical storms that have hit the small Caribbean island in the last few weeks.

“Jacmel was one of the first places the hurricane hit,” said Regice. “My family is OK, but there is not more plantation or trees. They were going to have a good, successful crop this year. The land – everything is destroyed.”

Regice’s uncle now has no choice but to leave retirement and return to the United States to work as a taxi driver, making up the money lost from the destroyed crops. This is the second time it’s happened. Hurricane Noel destroyed his crops in October last year.**speak to Regice and ask how bad.

The brutality of the storms Fay and Hanna and Hurricanes Gustave and Ike have left an estimated 1, 000 people dead and 800, 000 people in need of humanitarian assistance. Over a million people have been evacuated from their homes and some areas, such as the city of Gonaives, have been cut off from assistance by flooding.

The storms have not only had a devastating impact on the island of Haiti, but also on the Haitian immigrants in the United States, many of which support families living 2,000 miles away. New York State has the second highest concentration of Haitian-born immigrants in the country after Florida: approximately 125, 475 people of the total U.S. population of 420, 000, according to Census 2000 statistics. A large part of this community resides within the Caribbean community of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

With political stability and environmental devastation debilitating the Haitian economy, many immigrant families have had to reach deep in their pockets to support family members back home, most of whom fall into the 80 percent of the population that lives under the poverty line.

Jacques Lamothe, of the Bedford Haitian Community Center Inc., assists his niece and nephew, who live in a house with 20 people maintained by his father in Gonaïves. His niece and nephew are unemployed and last week Lamothe sent them $50 to help.

“There’s no food, no drinking water,” he said, having spoken to them a few days earlier. “But at least the house is OK.”
Individuals and groups in Crown Heights are organizing support to assist communities back home effected by the storms, vivid reminders of Hurrican Jeanne, which killed 3, 000 Haitians in 2004. Some are rushing to use money transfer facilities, which ensure the immediate transferral of funds.

However, these funds won’t help families who can’t access flooded banks or travel damaged roads to get to banks that are open.

Bishop Guy Sansaricq, based at St Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church in Crown Heights, is former head of the Haitian Apostolate of Brooklyn. Sansaricq is assisting with a relief effort that will deliver aid to the Catholic Relief Fund in Haiti, as well as to the Bishop of Gonaïves, who is currently housing 500 people in the second floor of the church.
Sansaricq says his parishioners are heartbroken about the situation back home. “I’m a little at a loss of what to do, it’s beyond [the parishioners] immediate capacity to do anything except send money, but the banks are flooded!” he said. “The population here is extremely sorry and in pain for what’s going on.”

Claude Bonaventure, a teacher’s aide at a day care center in the neighbourhood, says that parents are mostly worried that aid will be misplaced.

“The people in Haiti don’t have much, and what they had they’ve now lost. They have nothing. People here send money to them but they don’t have that much for themselves.” Bonaventure said parents are reluctant to send physical goods such as food and clothing because they are not sure if it will and in the proper hands.
“They’re really not sure if the people who need it will get it,” she said.

Radio Soleil d’Haiti, a station based in Crown Heights, is dealing with this concern by broadcasting a day long radio show on Sunday, September 14, insturcitng people on how they can assist those affected.

Producer Ricot Dupuy or Soleil d’Haiti said that the program, organized by a network of radio stations in Haiti, will be broadcast on all radio stations in Haiti, as well as on stations in Miami and Montreal. The program will appeal for money from immigrants in the United States and provide instructions to Haitians about how they can find help. Money donated will be used to buy aid and distribute goods by the radio stations “in a centralised way” according to Dupuy, who also said the process will be transparent and the use of funds will be publicised.

“This is one of the major catastrophes that has ever happened to the country,” says Dupuy. “This is not localized, it’s
country wide. The level of devastation is so huge; I cannot come close to describing it. It’s panic. You have regions that are separated by water, where there is now ay to get form one region to the other; food cannot be transported. There is no drinking water. And everyone is impacted; there’s nobody that’s not impacted.”

Crown Heights factory worker Imose Ganlouisa, who already sends money to her six brothers and one sister in Port-au-Prince, says she expects to contribute more.

“I feel so sorry and so angry when I see the pictures on the television,” she said. “I don’t know how they are going to get back on their feet.”

Concerned citizens can assist by donating to the aid efforts of the American Red Cross and Partners in Health or by donating goods to the Diocese of Brooklyn. Listen to Radio Soleil D’Haiti on soft wave radio from 9am to 4pm this Sunday to learn more.

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