For the Haitian-American community in Queens, there was more heartbreak last week as a Category 4 hurricane roared across the southern part of the island nation and left vast destruction behind.
As Matthew rammed into Florida and up the coast, headlines about the hurricane’s path in the United States dominated the coverage with only spotty news about its impact on Haiti. The media was criticized in some quarters for ignoring Haiti, the poorest country in the western Hemisphere.
Family members in Cambria Heights and other neighborhoods in southeast Queens were left worrying about loved ones after the storm cut off the southern peninsula and stymied rescue operations.
Haitian-Americans United for Progress, a 40-year-old nonprofit in Hollis, put out the word to donate even before the grim numbers on the death toll and the extensive damage began to roll in.
With Haiti still struggling to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and a subsequent cholera epidemic, Matthew delivered another crippling blow. As rescue workers began to reach remote towns and villages that had been flattened by the storm, the estimates of the dead climbed. The official count hovered around 300, but as the first reporters got to the area the numbers shot up to 800 or more fatalities.
The American media were criticized for not topping their U.S. hurricane stories with the Haitian death toll, but editors were reluctant to go with spotty reports from the field.
When the full picture began to emerge, however, it turned out the high death toll estimates were accurate and the economic revival in some towns in the south had been obliterated.
The city’s response to the latest crisis in Haiti has been slow, partly due to the delayed news coverage.
But the mayor’s office announced Wednesday city employees could deduct donations from their paychecks, with 100 percent going to rescue agencies, such as UNICEF, the Red Cross, International Medical Corps and Global Giving.
State Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) is collecting non-perishable foods and other supplies to ship to the beleaguered island.
Haiti, the world’s first black republic after slaves revolted in 1804, has a turbulent history. Some of the early settlers of the borough’s Haitian-American community, which now number about 40,000, were driven out of their homeland by the dictator, Papa Doc, in the late ‘50s and ‘60s. Thousands followed.
The Haitian diaspora has made major contributions to the Queens’ economy and cultural life.
We should expand the relief efforts.