Lack of water was not the problem for Pierre Gaston on September 5, 2008. In fact, from the roof of his house in Gonaives, there was ten feet of water throughout the city as far as he could see. Again. Deja Vue. Just like September 27, 2004, the last time he was on his roof overlooking the flooding and devastation of Haiti’s third largest city. There was plenty of water. Pierre’s problem, and that of his family and everyone he could see, was the absence of POTABLE water. You have to have water to drink or in a few days you will perish – simple as that. And all that was available to anyone was the very muddy and polluted flood water. Drinking THAT water was horrible to imagine.
In 2008, three weeks of rain and 100 mph winds had delivered three million cubic yards of water and mud into Gonaives. Unlike hundreds of less fortunate neighbors, Pierre’s family had survived the immediate peril presented by three weeks of hurricanes: Fay, Gustav and Hanna. The bridge across which they escaped Gonaives was washed away two days later by hurricane number four: Ike. In 2004, only one storm, hurricane Jeanne, swept two thousand people to their death. That flood hit unexpectedly in the middle of one night. This time it happened slower, but the water height and destruction were the same.
When the flood receded enough to return home, Pierre found out that the municipal water system was out of commission. He stayed healthy because Haiti Outreach, along with several other disaster relief organizations, carried clean water into the city with their water truck, normally used in well drilling. Haiti Outreach also examined the city water system, which they had repaired after the hurricane in 2004. They immediately ordered the needed parts and scheduled volunteers Jim Kirzeder and Ron Ringhand to join Country Director Neil Van Dine to repair the system. Within a short period of time, Jim and Ron arrived from Minnesota, did the repairs, and soon many people in the city of Gonaives had potable water again. Only this time it was fixed in a matter of a few weeks. In 2004, it took almost four months.
Fortunately, many of the wells Haiti Outreach had dug in the vicinity after the 2004 hurricane were undamaged and were a source of clean water throughout the disaster. For Pierre, the long labor of shoveling out the mud, hauling away the wrecked vehicles, and rebuilding homes, businesses, and families began. But at least they had clean, drinkable water.
The floods in Gonaives in 2004 and 2008 have provided Haiti Outreach an opportunity to develop new kinds of collaborations with other relief agencies. We all worked together to help bring life-giving water to the people in this unfortunate city.