On October 8 I turned on the television to see live news coverage about Hurricane Matthew as it carved a path of destruction up the east coast. The station went from the news person doing a live remote to the news helicopter that showed home after home completely surrounded by water. The flooding was on a massive scale. Only the houses were visible. All roads and other spaces were completely underwater. As I watched the scene before me I thought, “I’m pretty sure most of those people are going to be OK.”
The scene from Hilton Head, South Carolina, showed million dollar home after million dollar home surrounded by water. I’m guessing most of those people evacuated well in advance. They may have had to leave behind the third car that was now locked in the flooded garage. Estimated damage is around in the U.S. is $6 billion, which would include a lot of golf courses and sailboats. The owners of the homes I saw on TV may simply have gone to their other home located elsewhere in the U.S. as the hurricane approached. Even in the U.S., economic disparity can mean the difference between security and danger when disaster strikes.
Not so for everyone. Hurricane Matthew is blamed for the loss of 43 lives in the U.S. Some of these people may have not taken warnings to heart, but many may have found themselves with very limited options as the storm approached. The loss of life in the U.S. on this scale is a tragedy. The United Methodist Churches in those areas immediately went into action to be an active part of the relief effort.
The storm had hit Haiti earlier in the week. By the time I was watching, initial reports were that three people may have been killed who were out in a fishing boat. The southern part of Haiti wasn’t accessible due to washed out bridges, but it was assumed that the storm hadn’t been as bad as expected.
As the days went on, and people with connections to communications gained access to the southern part of Haiti, the death toll started to rise. Soon it was apparent that it would be in the hundreds. The last estimate put the total number of lives lost between 550 and 1,100.As a culture, that number is hard for us to process. If you compare it to the 2010 earthquake, that the Haitian government attributes 300,000 deaths to, it is a small event. But if you compare it to a place of means, like to U.S., it is a natural disaster in recent times topped only by Hurricane Katrina.
Immediately following the hurricane, the U.S. Navy was on hand, using vessels designed for war to deliver food by the ton to people in need by the metric ton. And the church was at work, too, raising funds, shipping water filters and preparing plans for volunteer teams.
Because of the work United Methodist Churches in Missouri were already doing in Haiti, we have a head start on response to this disaster. Read more about the Missouri response on page 24 of this issue, and consider how you can be part of giving aid to people living in a state of vulnerability.