Caught in tragedy: Maury Graham struggles to help Haiti
By Samar Fay, Courier editor
Published: Wednesday, January 20th, 2010
Maury Graham went to Haiti to attend a hopeful event, the dedication of a new seminary near Cap Haitian, the country's second-largest city, on the northern coast of the country. He is now experiencing the devastation of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, caused by a massive earthquake centered near the capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.
Graham works with OMS International, a Christian ministry with activities worldwide. A retired banker from Glasgow, he has traveled and lived in Russia and central Asian republics, helping to organize missionaries and plant new churches. Now he is trying to use the resources of his organization to help people survive until food, water and medical help can reach them.
He was scheduled to fly out of Haiti shortly after the dedication of the seminary, but after the earthquake he was asked to stay on to coordinate medical people coming in to Cap Haitian under OMS sponsorship to assist with medical problems around the country.
In a series of e-mails to the Courier that began the day after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, Graham related events as he experienced them. First, he reassured friends in Glasgow that he was all right. He said he was 90 miles north of Port-au-Prince, well out of the danger area, but they definitely felt the quake and many aftershocks as well. Their field leader, Brett Bundy, was in the capital, assessing the damage to their two ministries there, the Emmaus Fellowship Church and the Villa Ormiso Hospitality Center, which offers hospitality and spiritual renewal for OMS personnel, work groups, guests and other missionaries.
"Terrible devastation," Graham wrote. "Nearly everyone working with us here has relatives in Port - very sad. Prayers appreciated."
On Saturday, Jan. 16, he wrote that their field leader was back in Cap Haitien. He had seen 40,000 people sleeping outside the villa. The church, the Emmaus Fellowship Church, was gone. Bundy said that the mission's response would be three-fold: providing emergency supplies, mobilizing experts to help and broadcasting hope.
The greatest need was for medical supplies and trained medical personnel. They were sending a truck down to the capital with supplies of food, fresh water and lumber. It would stay there in Port-au-Prince to assist a Christian relief organization, Samaritan's Purse, in hauling supplies from the airport to distribution centers.
The OMS villa, located very near the epicenter of the quake, only sustained damage to the outer wall of the compound, so it would be used as a staging area for the OMS relief work.
International news reports over the weekend tried to describe the amount of damage, the near-complete collapse of all government buildings and services, the thousands of people dead and dying in the streets. Expert recovery crews from around the world still found a few people alive under the rubble.
Graham wrote, "It is hard to imagine the devastation, the anguish in people's minds and hearts, the uncertainty because of lack of cell phone coverage, etc. I just heard this morning that people are leaving Port-au-Prince even on foot if they cannot afford or find transportation. We are preparing for an influx of refugees here in Cap. In fact, the mayor of Cap has sent 11 city buses to Port to bring up refugees who cannot otherwise find transportation."
He said supplies are arriving in the country but distribution is the bottleneck.
"What little infrastructure that might have been available before the quake has been pretty well wiped out. As one can imagine, there is great frustration knowing relief supplies are on hand, but no effective way to get them where needed. It is very possible that many who survived the quake will starve to death in the aftermath. And nearly all the hospitals are down. Temporary facilities are about all that is available for the hundreds of thousands who are wounded or ill."
One of OMS International's first ministries in Haiti was a radio station, 4VEH, and now they are struggling to find fuel to keep broadcasts on the air. The station's range extends over most of the country, farther than any other other radio station in Haiti, so they are a source of updates for isolated people. They broadcast news and public announcements, as well as prayer and spiritual support, commentary and music. Many people in Haiti live every day with irregular electricity, so they listen to small battery- or solar-powered radios.
Graham forwarded a message from Radio 4VEH that begged for donations to earthquake relief and their station, so they could keep connecting people with messages like this one:
"We're in Port-au-Prince...our family lives at St-Louis du Nord, Haiti...To our parents Mr and Mme Elisee Leger or everyone listening to Radio 4VEH in St-Louis...we want to say we're alive...our names are Wandel Leger and Loubert Leger..."
On Sunday, Graham reported that people were leaving Port-au-Prince by the thousands just to get to a place where they might be able to survive.
"We are expecting a huge influx of people here in Cap, since we are the only other large city in Haiti. That will present a new crop of challenges. Fuel supplies are already drying up, and the price going sky high. Food is getting scarce. Even banks are closed because their accounting is done in Port-au-Prince, and all of those banks are destroyed and not functioning. So no cash is available, even to pay our people here at OMS. I hope I'm not overloading you with info – but the need is unimaginable."
The Pan American Health Organization on Sunday estimated the number of dead at 50,000 to 100,000. The country's prime minister, Jean-Max Bellerive, was quoted as saying 100,000 would "seem to be the minimum." Trucks were carrying bodies to mass graves. There was no care available for the residents of a nursing home who sat in the street, some with broken bones. Desperate people in mobs grabbed at food and water as aid stations began to operate. The U.S. Air Force took control of the airport and mercy flights. More than 2,000 Marines were sent to provide security and help with aid delivery, and a Navy hospital ship sailed from Baltimore.
"We have limited access to the info you receive," Graham wrote Jan. 19. "We have one house on the compound that has satellite TV, so we can get U.S. news there. However, it's not very convenient because we just don't have the time to go to that home to watch. I didn't realize planes were having problems landing. I had heard that there are serious distribution problems, with no infrastructure remaining to do the job. Lots of relief supplies are sitting on the tarmac."
Authorities doubled the estimated death toll to 200,000 Monday, making the Haiti earthquake one of the worst human disasters in history. Some 1.5 million people are homeless, sleeping in tents, under tarps or on the street. But a rescue team found two Haitian women alive in a collapsed university building.
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