Friday, January 15, 2010

Surviving Disaster

My heart is breaking for the people in Haiti. I have lived through a large natural disaster - Hurricane Andrew, in 1992 - Miami. I can't fathom, however, a disaster that strikes with no warning and with such utter devastation. I can fathom the feelings of helplessness and disbelief. I experienced those emotions during "Andrew". For this earthquake, the news stories are as compelling as they are horrifying and I am finding myself glued to my television to watch the coverage.

I am hopeful that this disaster will bring about the best in people. It's encouraging watching the planes coming in with relief so quickly for these stricken people but what breaks my heart more than anything is thinking about the number of orphans that have been created as a result of this earthquake and watching footage of children with blank stares and tears in their eyes. Who will take care of the children? The grief and shock at what is to be found must be staggering for people living in the midst of this, and for the countless workers, doctors, engineers, military personnel and relief organizations all headed to Haiti to help. The images being shown of bodies in the streets are unimaginable. How can one watch and not be effected?

Let's hope that politics don't muck up the efforts to really help these people. Our president said today that Haitians will "not be forsaken". I pray to God that he is right on this one and that his promises are not empty. Relief for Haiti will not just be this week, or this month, but will need to stretch out to years. In the days that followed Hurricane Andrew, there was much criticism of how lagging aid was to south Florida. I remember feeling relief seeing the military planes landing at Tamiami Airport just north of where we lived. A sign of hope and help. Our neighborhood had been flattened. At least in Andrew, the death toll was less than 100 souls. In Haiti, it may be as much as 100,000. Staggering. Where is the Haitian government in the efforts to recover people? Are those that ran the government all gone? Can this mean a new leaf may be turned for this nation? Someone has to be in charge - will it end up being the US? How can donors be assured that their money and resources will be directed to the people who really need it and not line the pockets of the corrupt and greedy. The US has a checkered past with the leaders of Haiti. We have supported some pretty bad guys. Let's pray we won't do that now and that someone is literally minding the store.

I have been to the north coast of Haiti - Labadee, having been there from the decks of Royal Caribbean cruise ships. It's a lovely place with a colorful, exhuberant people. You would think that big companies would invest in the hundreds of miles of beaches and make Haiti a large tourist destination. This has not happened, other than places like Labadee. I wonder that maybe now, with all the money flowing into this country that opportunity for change will come to this nation after all. Can a nation that is amongst the very poorest in the world be turned around? Can the people be educated to the degree that they begin to help themselves?

After Andrew it was hard to imagine life before the disaster - for a time anyway. But hope does return when the aid planes and military forces step in to maintain order. We were lucky, in a way. We had a place to stay and water to drink. Friends stepped up to help us immediately. Neighbors banded together and shared what they had to make it easier for everyone. But what resources do these people have? It looks like little. Very little. Heartbreaking. But people are resilient and there are good folks and organizations that will make a difference in Haiti in short order. Until all the help arrives, and for some time, I will keep these people in my mind and prayers.

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