A Chilliwack man doing missionary work in Haiti was caught in the chaos of Hurricane Matthew as the Category 4 storm ripped through the country, uprooting trees and inundating Haitians with floodwater and mud.
“It’s more than devastating here — it’s the worst storm ever,” said Carlton Toews, founder of Project Help Haiti (PHH) on Tuesday.
The Cultus Lake resident was teaching an English class Saturday at 5 p.m. at a school near the city of Jacmel when he first started seeing evidence of the approaching storm. Black clouds crept in, and with them came rain and wind.
“We expected the hurricane to hit Monday at 8 p.m.,” he said via social media. “The news said it was headed west and would miss Haiti. We only expected rain and wind.”
But Hurricane Matthew was approaching Haiti’s south coast at full force.
“Sunday at 3 p.m., the hurricane was upon us.”
Toews was having lunch at a friend’s house that afternoon when the weather worsened.
“I could see the rusted metal and holes (in the roof). I knew the catastrophic hurricane was coming.”
It was at that point that Toews realized he needed to leave.
Director of PHH, Sadrac Guerrier, and assistant director, Clarence Morette, insisted Toews go to a safe place away from the mountain and river.
“I left the mountain of Bassin Bleu on the back of a motorcycle, with the rain and floods of mud following me to the river.”
He headed for Port aux Prince, crossing a brand new bridge that had just opened the Friday before. Toews said it was a “miracle” that the bridge was open and accessible.
After crossing the river, the three got the last seats on the last van heading north.
“So far, everyone we know is safe inside. The school, church and kindergarten are full of families,” he said Tuesday.
The powerful storm has killed at least 108 people. The winds ripped roofs off homes and the pounding rain has caused widespread mud and flooding.
“We have 1,000 homes without roofs. Right now (we are) struggling to get rusted sheet metal back onto them.”
Those 1,000 homes cost about $325 to reroof. Toews is asking people to donate money to help put roofs back over the heads of Haitians in need.
The rain and wind completely destroyed crops as well. The mountain gardens and fields have been flooded and washed away by mud, the seeds to replant are gone.
“Bassin Bleu lost so many trees. So many homes are flooded and falling, the mandarins and avocados are on the ground.”
They also lost goats and donkeys.
Toews, a part-time pastor at Cultus Lake Memorial Church, arrived in Haiti at the beginning of September to build a library for the Nazarene Mountain School of Bassin Bleu, build a home for a family, host a humanitarian team from Florida, and open a new kindergarten facility and medical clinic.
He had a flight scheduled Tuesday to head back to Chilliwack for Thanksgiving before going to Mexico for two months to work on another project.
All of that changed when Hurricane Matthew hit.
His missionary work turned to relief work as he, Guerrier and Morette focussed their efforts on getting food to people, and roofs on homes. His partners returned to Bassin Blue to distribute food while Toews stayed in Port aux Prince helping via phone and internet.
“We are arranging 400 food bags. Each bag will have four meals of Haitian spaghetti with sauce tomato and onion.” They also handed out flour, oil, chilis, dried fish, rice and black beans.
His website, projecthelphaiti.com has been updated regularly since the beginning of the hurricane.
“Help, it’s a hurricane! Right now I am here in Haiti. In the next 24 hours thousands of families will lose their roofs and it will take $250 (USD) to replace it. Food bags of $50 will be needed. Acts of love and kindness for the world’s poorest nation — please if you can donate, it will be amazing,” he wrote on Monday.
“One thousand families need 65 sheets of metal and nails at a cost of $250 (USD) per home, and Sodec School needs a new roof of 250 sheets. The storm has just stopped and now the real work begins,” read a post on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, his updates switched to food relief.
“Right now we are loading our vehicle to feed the devastated area of Sodec. You don’t need a meeting to discuss the needs of hungry mountain families after three nights of pounding rain.”
Though miles apart, separated by mud and floodwaters, Toews, Guerrier and Morette were at it since 5 a.m. Wednesday bringing food to families.
“Today hundreds of Haitian families are going to eat a hot spaghetti supper,” wrote Toews in a post on social media. “If you could see my face now, you would see the tears. Your love and support is appreciated. Hundreds of Haitian families say ‘merci.’”
Haiti is still recovering from the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit in 2010. Many families have been homeless for more than six years, and the effects of this most recent natural disaster have once again devastated the country.
After days of helping hundreds of Haitian families, Toews will soon be able to focus on his own. He was able to secure a flight home on Friday and will be back in Cultus Lake with his family for Thanksgiving.
To donate towards Project Help Haiti, go to projecthelphaiti.com.