Two local men who organized and delivered humanitarian aid to Haitians after the devastating 2010 earthquake are returning to the Caribbean nation that caught the worst of Hurricane Matthew’s destructive force. Mike Wnek, a homebuilder from Auburndale, and Daniel Thelusmar, of Plant City, delivered supplies and aid immediately after the earthquake that killed an estimated 160,000 Haitians in 2010.
By Christopher Guinn
Two local men who organized and delivered humanitarian aid to Haitians after the devastating 2010 earthquake are returning to the Caribbean nation that caught the worst of Hurricane Matthew’s destructive force.
Mike Wnek, a homebuilder from Auburndale, and Daniel Thelusmar, of Plant City, delivered supplies and aid immediately after the earthquake that killed an estimated 160,000 Haitians in 2010.
Wnek and his organization, Hope for Haiti Healing, have since built 36 homes in Haiti and plan to return in November with a volunteer team of seven U.S. contractors and about 30 Haitian workers.
To survey the situation in preparation of that larger trip and to deliver crucial supplies, Wnek is leaving for Haiti today. With him will be doses of antibiotics for clinics he has worked with during his more than 30 years volunteering aid in Haiti. The drugs can help stem the tide of waterborne diseases like cholera, which is expected to explode in the wet, unsanitary conditions.
Hope for Haiti Healing
Donations are managed through the United Aid Foundation
Caribbean American Civic Movement
Haiti’s southern peninsula caught the worst of the Category 4 hurricane — 145 mph winds destroyed more than nine in 10 buildings in Les Cayes, a city of about 86,000 on the southern coast, The New York Times reported. The death toll is estimated at about 1,000. Disease as well as damage to infrastructure and crops are expected to worsen the crisis in the nation that has struggled to rebound from the 2010 quake that killed an estimated 160,000.
The clinics’ antibiotics supply is “very, very low,” Wnek said. It doesn’t take a lot of the antibiotics to save infected people, “but if you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you don’t have access to antibiotics, you die quickly and you die miserably.”
He also plans to buy a truckload of rice, oil and beans in Port-au-Prince to distribute because prices have skyrocketed in the country and priced some residents into malnutrition.
“We don’t know what we can get, it’s just so so chaotic. … We’re trying to buy everything we can in Haiti” and to buy from local merchants and hire Haitian workers,” he said. “It’s important to help the local economy every way you can. The Haitians don’t want a handout, they want to work, they will work their tails off. They will do everything. They’re outstanding.”
Some of the Haitian children Wnek met when he built clinics, schools and an orphanage decades ago are now young men who work alongside Wnek when he is in Haiti, he said.
There is little news out of the southern peninsula where Wnek will head for the second stage of his trip — terrain difficult to pass in the best of times has become swamped, roads and bridges are out.
Earlier, some of Wnek’s associates in the region were able to send him updates and photos, but he has since lost contact.
“We’re going on faith. … We’re going to walk in blind,” he said.
By seaplane carrying a limited amount of supplies, Wnek will travel to Jeremie, a city on the northern coast of the southern peninsula that was particularly ravaged by the storm; Les Cayes; “and some town I’ve never heard of” where an orphanage is in desperate need.
“They’re out of everything and have a lot of issues,” he said.
The November trip will focus on rebuilding roofs.
“There are thousands and thousands of houses with no roofs,” he said. “A lot of them are not well built; they just went flying.
“The first thing we can do is get all those people dry, get them some security, a place to put their supplies — though many of them lost everything,” he said.
“All of our houses (near Port-au-Prince) survived beautifully right at ground zero, 140 — 150 mph winds,” Wnek posted on his group’s Facebook page after Matthew.
“Now that’s the good news. The bad news is that food prices have skyrocketed, a cholera explosion is on the horizon and Zika and dengue fever (bearing) mosquitos are exploding. The misery level is extreme,” he said.
Wnek’s Hope for Haiti Healing is collecting donations through its partner United Aid Foundation, a volunteer-run organization that reports 98 percent of donations go toward direct aid. His goal is to bring $25,000 in aid to Haiti.
Thelusmar, a pastor and the president of the Caribbean American Civic Movement, has family in the southern peninsula he has not been able to contact because transportation and communication networks are damaged.
Waterborne disease is his biggest concern.
“Now one of the biggest issues we have in Chardonnières is cholera,” Thelusmar said. “They are dying and starving. Since last week no one has made it there and the water they are drinking is contaminated.”
Chardonnières, a city of approximately 23,000, lies on the southwestern shore of the southern peninsula.
Getting food, clothing, shelter and medical expertise out of the ports has been impossible in some cases, Thelusmar said.
A seven-member team working through his charity is moving toward the western end of the southern peninsular. It’s difficult passage and the team — including an engineer and an agronomist — expects to start working to open roads to remote areas by Saturday.
“I heard there are a lot of deaths; we don’t know how many dead bodies there are. The water is carrying bodies down to the beach,” Thelusmar said. “Cholera can spread so fast.”
Thelusmar’s 86-year-old grandmother, a resident of Les Cayes, sustained a broken arm in the storm. Thelusmar’s uncle is trying to get her across the country to Port au Prince, the capital.
Thelusmar said he is hoping to leave for Haiti this weekend after securing financial, technical and material support to take with him. There is food and clothing stockpiled in the Dominican Republic, he said, so cash is the biggest need to buy or rent equipment and transportation, as well as seed and fertilizer to start replanting wiped-out crops.
— Christopher Guinn can be reached at Christopher.Guinn@theledger.com or 863-802-7592. Follow him on Twitter @CGuinnNews.