Category: Archive

Concern’s volunteers grapple with Georges

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

Hurricane Georges was the bane of Derryman Patrick McManus’s life last weekend.

As country director in Haiti for Concern Worldwide, the Irish international relief agency, he occasionally has to communicate by radio while standing on the top of a water tank in the capital, Port-au-Prince. But last weekend, as Georges howled across the Caribbean, McManus was incommunicado, at least with his headquarters in New York.

"Trying to communicate with Patrick has been a nightmare," Concern’s executive director, Siobhán Walsh, said Monday from her office in Manhattan.

As the hurricane bore down on Haiti and neighboring Dominican Republic, known collectively as Hispaniola, an island, residents had to flee, and homes, livestock and crops were washed away. Walsh said it was too early to talk about lives lost because Monday was the first day after the hurricane that Concern workers had an opportunity to view the consequences. Indeed, for two days, Concern staff were confined to Anse a Galet, a town that was cut off by a flooding ravine.

McManus is head of Concern’s relief effort in Haiti. Donal Reilly, an engineer from Dublin, also works for Concern in Haiti.

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After speaking to McManus on Monday, Walsh said that many parts of Cite Soleil, near the bay of Port-au-Prince, were flooded, particularly in the area called "Ti Haiti," or little Haiti. Concern workers helped in the evacuation of about 50 families to a nearby school. Concern provided cooked meals for these families since the storm.

Concern workers also distributed tools such as spades, shovels and wheelbarrows to the residents of another area close to "Ti Haiti" where a number of houses had been destroyed and others left with several feet of silt and mud on the floors.

McManus said that 1,500 houses had been badly damaged by the storm. "When I say houses, I mean small tin-sheet-type shacks, and the children were wading in mixtures of water and mud," McManus said. "We’ve already allocated $15,000 to provide some of the practical materials for people, but that’s hardly enough. We’ve already begun distributing plastic sheeting and clothing to these families, and we will also be converting the local schools to food and clothing-distribution centers to help these people in Cite Soleil."

In another area, Leogane, a low-lying agricultural area in the west of Port-au-Prince, a further 4,000 families have been badly affected.

"They’ve asked us to help with water provision, as the water distributions and hand pumps have been destroyed by the hurricane," McManus told Walsh by phone from Port-au-Prince on Monday. "We’ve also been asked to assist with transportation of food supplies and cooking utensils to the people. Concern has already distributed 500 plastic buckets . . . and will be distributing 10 tons of wheat-rice and assorted cooking utensils in the coming days."

Meanwhile, as Hurricane Georges swung north toward New Orleans on Sunday night, the cast of the Irish Repertory Theater and directors Ciarán O’Reilly and Charlotte Moore held a special benefit performance for the most needy people in Haiti.

Concern’s New York office will monitor the situation during the coming days. For information, call Siobhán Walsh at (212) 557-8000.

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