The Salvation Army is mobilizing resources and personnel to assist with the international relief effort in Haiti following a severe earthquake Tuesday that damaged much of the country’s infrastructure, housing and commercial buildings.
The Salvation Army has had a presence in Haiti since 1950 and currently operates schools, clinics, a hospital, feeding programs, children’s homes and church-related activities spread across two major facilities in Port au Prince, close to the epicenter of the earthquake and at other locations in the country.
One of the facilities, or compounds as it is referred to, includes a home for more than 50 children; a school with a daily attendance of 1,500 children; a medical clinic caring for 150-200 people daily; and a church that on any typical Sunday welcomes nearly 1,000 people. The facility is less than 10 minutes from the National Palace and is in an area known as St. Martin that’s home to predominantly poor living in the nation’s capital.
According to reports from Salvation Army staff in Port au Prince, no one in the compound was injured during the earthquake, but the children’s home, the clinic and church suffered major damage. Several smaller buildings, including residences, have collapsed completely. People were sleeping in the parking lot overnight, while severe aftershocks continued to affect the country.
The second compound that houses Salvation Army administrative offices is being used as an emergency operations center; damage was slight to this compound, according to Salvation Army reports from Haiti.
The Salvation Army hospital in Fond-des-Negres (75 miles west of Port-au-Prince) reports some minor damage, but no injuries.
Major Robert Poff is the Director of Disaster Services for The Salvation Army in Haiti. Below is his moving account of the situation in Haiti immediately following the earthquake:
Words cannot begin to describe the devastation that has taken place in Port au Prince, Haiti. The Salvation Army’s World Services Office, based in Alexandria, VA, has committed $50,000 to the relief effort and the organization is prepared to commit more financial resources, as well as food, water and other emergency supplies, to assist in the recovery. I am the Director of Disaster Services for The Salvation Army in Haiti, and I am from the United States. My wife and I have been in PAP since April, and have fallen deeply in love with the country and it’s people.
When the earthquake struck, I was driving down the mountain from Petionville. Our truck was being tossed to and fro like a toy, and when it stopped, I looked out the windows to see buildings “pancaking” down, like I have never witnessed before. Traffic, of course, came to a stand-still, while thousands of people poured out into the streets, crying, carrying bloody bodies, looking for anyone who could help them. We piled as many bodies into the back of our truck, and took them down the hill with us, hoping to find medical attention. All of them were older, scared, bleeding, and terrified. It took about 2 hours to go less than 1 mile. Traffic was horrible, devastation was everywhere, and suffering humanity was front and center.
When we could drive no further, we left the truck parked on the side of the street, and walked the remaining 2 miles to get back to the Army compound. What I found was very sad! All of the security walls were down. The Children’s Home itself seems pretty intact, but our quarters, which is attached, are destroyed. Unlivable. The walls and ceiling are still standing – but so badly compromised that I wouldn’t even think of trying to stay there. All of the children, and hundreds of neighbors, are sleeping in our playground area tonight. Occasionally, there is another tremor – another reminder that we are not yet finished with this calamity. And when it comes, all of the people cry out and the children are terrified.
As I am sitting outside now, with most people trying to get a little sleep, I can hear the moans and cry’s of the neighbors. One of our staff went to a home in the neighborhood, to try to be of assistance to the woman who lived there. But she was too late.
The scene will be repeated over and over again. Tomorrow, we will begin the process of assessing damage, learning about casualties, and preparing for the future.
God bless Haiti.
Robert Poff, January 13, 2010
Bob Poff, PR and EDS Director for the Haiti Division has witnessed the devastation for himself, and is desperately trying to meet the immediate needs of the community that surrounds the DHQ and Corps/school compound in Port-au-Prince.
The organization is preparing to send more than 44,000 lbs of pre-packaged emergency rations to the country, along with emergency disaster teams. The Salvation Army is working with other agencies to identify appropriate transportation for the food. As with all such relief efforts, The Salvation Army will be a part of the initial emergency response while assessing longer term needs of the residents.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti at this time and especially our Salvation Army officers and employees throughout the country,” said Lt. Col. Dan Starrett, who directs the Salvation Army World Services Office.