By RUBY THOMAS, Record Staff Writer
As Haiti reels from a 7.2 magnitude earthquake and the effects of tropical storm Grace, relief is being organized by the local non-profit Water With Blessings and the Cathedral of the Assumption is reaching out to its heavily damaged parish twin there.
Catholic News Service (CNS) reported Aug. 16 that tens of thousands of residents in southern Haiti are living in the open following the quake, centered about 80 miles west of the nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince. The cities of Jérémie and Les Cayes were the most affected.
As of Aug. 16, Haiti’s civil protection agency listed the death toll from the earthquake at 1,419 and the number injured as more than 6,000, according to CNS.
St. Louis Cathedral in Jérémie, a parish twin of the Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville, lost its roof in the earthquake and appears to have suffered catastrophic damage.
The two cathedrals have been twinned since the year 2000, said David Puckett, a member of the Cathedral of the Assumption and one of the parishioners who leads the twinning program.
Puckett said he’s heard from fellow parishioner Gary Boice, who was in Jérémie with his son Michael during the quake. That city in southern Haiti is the scene of major destruction. The Louisville pair told Puckett that St. Louis Cathedral was heavily damaged. Boice leads Tek4Kids, a program that brings technology to schools in Haiti.
The damage at St. Louis Cathedral is emotional for Gerry Delaquis, a member of St. Bernadette Church who serves as the Haiti coordinator for the Louisville-based Water With Blessings.
Delaquis is a native of Jérémie and grew up attending St. Louis Cathedral.
“It’s gone. I was baptized there and did my first Communion. The beginning of my Catholic faith came out of that cathedral,” said Delaquis, his voice breaking with emotion.
At the same time, Delaquis said that he is looking at the “positive side.”
“I’m in a position to help and I will,” he said. “Water With Blessings is blessed and I’m blessed to be able to guide that.”
Water With Blessings has been working in the earthquake-affected area for close to a decade, equipping residents with Sawyer Point ONE filters that can provide a lifetime of safe drinking water for multiple families.
Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Larraine Lauter, who serves as the executive director of Water With Blessings, said clean water is the greatest need after a natural disaster.
“More people die in refugee camps from water-borne diseases than are killed in the disaster itself,” she said.
Sister Lauter said Water With Blessings’ goal is to send 5,000 filters to Haiti; 1,500 have been donated. The group is asking for donations for the remainder.
“In times of disaster people tend to think of bottled water. That’s a terrible solution. It costs a lot to send and it’s gone in a few moments,” said Sister Lauter in a recent interview. “We want people to stop and think… We can send bottled water or give a filter that will last far beyond the disaster.”
The group has a “very strong system in place for distributing filters,” she said, and a team on the ground that is used to distributing hundreds of filters each week in Haiti.
Sister Lauter said they are assessing the situation to determine which areas are most in need and not expected to receive aid.
Water With Blessings’ “specialty” is reaching remote communities where it’s difficult to get help following a disaster, she said.
Reaching these communities will be challenging because of the “chaos” the nation is experiencing, she noted. CNS reported Aug. 16 that the major road connecting Les Cayes and Jérémie is blocked due to landslides and cracks in the road.
Sister Lauter is confident in her Haitian team members, who often travel by motorcycle on “back roads” carrying dozens of filters in duffle bags, she said.
“We have a young, tough, determined team who are very dedicated. They’ll hike on foot for eight hours up a mountain,” said Sister Lauter. “We’ll go where aid cannot flow.”
Delaquis agrees. He said it’ll be a “tough mission” but “they love helping their Haitian brothers and sisters. They’re willing to go.”
Sister Lauter said the earthquake destroyed the homes of four of her team members. Water With Blessings is also trying to raise funds — at least $4,000 — so each individual will have $1,000 of help to rebuild.
“These are people of whom I cannot say enough about how good, giving and sacrificial they are,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking. I know these are wonderful people and they’ve suffered greatly.”
To donate to Water With Blessings, visit https://waterwithblessings.org/haiti-earthquake-relief/. Donations can also be made by sending a check to the non-profit’s office at 1902 Campus Place, Suite 11, Louisville Ky., 40299.
To donate to the Cathedral of the Assumption’s twinning parish fund, visit https://cathedraloftheassumption.weshareonline.org/ws/opportunities/HaitiSisterParish.