News of a massive quake on the island nation of Haiti reached many people Jan. 12 as they were driving home from work or perhaps tuning in to the evening news. A short time later, the maiden images of the staggering death and destruction rendered by the catastrophe began finding their way on to 24-hour news broadcasts and newspaper Web sites.
It was sadly evident that the lives of Haitians everywhere had been forever changed. Even as government and news agencies were issuing their grim preliminary reports of hundreds of thousands killed and more than a million Haitians left homeless, an immediate response plan from the Church was under way.
The Church is relatively small in this impoverished nation of 9 million. Two stakes and a few districts are in operation. Still, members were being counted among the victims. A reported 20 Haitian members died in the quake. Meanwhile, some 4,000 people — members and nonmembers alike — have sought nightly refuge at the half-dozen meetinghouses’ in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
While much of the decimated city remained on edge a week after the disaster, the crowded meetinghouse grounds were refuges of peace and calm. Members have done what they can to keep the grounds orderly and clean, grabbing brooms to sweep up debris and keep things tidy.
No missionaries serving in the country were killed. Several laboring in the Port-au-Prince area have been enlisted to help distribute provisions and provide service to Haitians in need.
The Church’s humanitarian efforts have been both broad and deeply individual and persona. Several stories in this issue of the Church News offer such accounts. (The Deseret News sent Scott Taylor, a staff writer, and Jeffrey D. Allred, a photographer, to Haiti.)
In the days following the quake, the Church shipped tens of thousands of relief supplies from the United States to Haiti. Included in the provisions were those items most desperately needed by the many victims: food, blankets, tents and tarps. Meanwhile, Church-sponsored trucks laden with food, medical supplies and other items traveled from the Dominican Republic to its sister nation of Haiti.
Days after the disaster, a team of LDS doctors and nurses, along with two emotional-health specialists, arrived in Port-au-Prince, turned an LDS meetinghouse into a makeshift clinic and began treating and caring for all who sought medical assistance, regardless of church affiliation.
A news article issued by the U.S. Department of Defense chronicled the Jan. 20 arrival of the hospital ship USNS Comfort in Haiti. The Comfort generally partners with nongovernment organizations such as the Church to provide professional services in times of dire need.
“[The LDS Church] were partners with us on our last mission,” said Navy Cmdr. Mark Marino through the American Forces Press Service. “They have orthopedic surgeons, emergency surgeons, general surgeons, pediatric, all the specialties in nursing, as well as ancillary services [and] respiratory technicians. And they are all willing to jump in, and they’ve got people standing by.”
Spiritual support is also being offered to the many desperate for prayers, comfort and priesthood direction and leadership.
“Within just a couple hours of the quake, the [Caribbean Area] presidency had talked with both stake presidents and the mission president in Haiti,” reported public affairs missionaries Elder Daniel Mehr and Sister Rebecca Mehr. “Committees of priesthood holders have been formed, and there is daily communication with these local leaders, who are responsible for the resources of the Church dedicated to Haiti. … The Saints in the Caribbean Area have all been invited to set aside extra donations in fast offerings in the next fast, which will be used for the Saints in Haiti.”
Meanwhile, several Haitian members who were injured in the quake were flown to a hospital in the Dominican Republic for treatment, the Mehrs reported.
Caribbean Area President Francico J. Vinas, a member of the Seventy, praised the shepherding efforts of the local priesthood leaders.
“We have a wonderful team of priesthood leaders here that are working very hard so that our members are well cared for,” he said. “We take good care of the people so they have what they need and the help of the medical doctors who are doing a great service.”
When asked what was the most the most memorable image from his day-and-a-half visit to the ravaged city, Elder Vinas replied: “The destruction and the desperation in the eyes of the people. The look in their eyes, the look in their faces, the hopeless situation they have here with all of the destruction.”
It’s anyone’s guess when life will truly return to “normal.” No time soon. Still, Haitians are doing what they can to realize some resemblance of the routine. Barbershops are re-opening and street vendors have returned, hawking their wares. Sabbath services are planned at meetinghouses and members look forward to once again worshiping together.
Powerful aftershocks were rattling Haiti more than a week after the main quake. Eventually, the seismic activity will settle and recovery will begin. The Church’s presence and humanitarian work, meanwhile, are expected to be felt long after the rubble has cleared. The Church’s ongoing efforts to provide relief to Haitians of all backgrounds will be made possible by the global generosity and big hearts of its members and friends.