Hurricane Matthew was the first category 5 Atlantic hurricane in half a decade. Striking the Caribbean island nation of Haiti on 4th October 2016, it caused over $10 billion of damage and the deaths of an estimated 1,600 people.
NHS physiotherapist Justine Gosling regularly volunteers in response to humanitarian crises around the world, having worked in a Syrian refugee camp in Greece and in Louisiana after it suffered heavy flooding last August. In a four-part series for Avaunt, Gosling describes the devastating effect of Matthew on Haiti and her aid efforts in the country.
PART ONE: ARRIVAL
Like many, I had been watching the swirling white clouds of Hurricane Matthew hovering over Haiti on television, unable to fully imagine its destruction from afar. Little did I know that in less than three weeks the land beneath that white spiral on the screen would be a place I’d come to know and love.
Stirred by the scenes I was witnessing, and despite having been away for months on my own expeditions, I quit my first paid work in over half a year, after only three weeks, to volunteer with Team Rubicon UK – a charity that combines the skills and experiences of military veterans with those of first responders to deploy emergency response teams around the world. Everyone I spoke to before I departed applauded my humanitarian endeavours, but only spoke negatively of Haiti.
Before I arrived I was ready to see starving children, extreme poverty and the widespread destruction in the aftermath of a hurricane. What I hadn’t prepared myself for was how much beauty and serenity I would find in a disaster zone, and how I would fall in love with such a troubled country and its people.
As the plane from America flew over the sunny island with its tall peaks, wildly zigzagging brown rivers, dazzling turquoise sea and deserted beaches, I knew Haiti was so much more than a broken country. From 10,000 feet it looked like paradise.
But then the plane began to descend into the capital, Port-au-Prince, and I got a closer view. It struck me that the main port was nearly empty – there were no trees on the hills, just dozens of scattered plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. I had to squint as we were about to land; the tightly-packed tin-roofed shacks reflected the sun and made it almost impossible to look out the window.
The six hour drive from the capital to Les Cayes, Haiti’s second largest city, was bumpy. By now the main road had been cleared of debris that was piled two meters high on the side of the road, so high that it blocked the view out of the 4×4 we were riding in.
The streets of the capital were chaotic. There was no order to the traffic on the roads – a haphazard mass of un-roadworthy trucks with flat tyres, pedestrians, goats and merchants hawking their toiletries and fruit. Seeing two live goats strapped to the back of a dirt bike in the middle of the traffic became a normal sight.
At the side of the road, the drainage gullies were completely blocked with litter. A river running between the closely-packed houses in the slums was dry, overflowing not with water but rubbish and mud from the recent floods. Children, goats and chickens scoured the foul smelling mound looking for food and useful items to sell.
Team Rubicon UK unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams in the UK and around the world.