“It’s heart wrenching,” East Tennessee relief groups, family making a difference after deadly Haiti earthquake

The Haiti Outreach Program has sent dozens of volunteers to the county over 20 years, and they are helping out now.
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 2:54 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2021 at 6:23 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Civil unrest, potential threats from gang members and a U.S. travel advisory to Haiti are just several conflicts keeping some East Tennessee relief groups from their life saving response efforts following a deadly earthquake.

On Monday, it was reported more than 1,300 people died due to a 7.2 magnitude earthquake Saturday. Hundreds of homes were demolished and many people were displaced. The current event comes a month after the assassination of Haiti’s president, which caused gang kidnappings, crime and civil unrest.

Screams of fear in Haiti have reached a worried Stephanie Giger in Knoxville. Her family sent pictures and videos from Les Cayes.

“It’s heart wrenching,” said Giger. “These things you do not expect, but when somebody calls you and tell you, ‘oh, my gosh we just felt the earth shake, it just puts you in panic, because you’re so far away.”

Giger works with the Haiti Outreach Program, a volunteer organization and outreach program of the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville. The group has sent dozens of volunteers to the country for more than 20 years. The group supports two schools and told WVLT News everyone who they work closely with are safe.

This time is different.

Chairman Matt Webster said sending volunteers down to help with any relief at this time is almost impossible.

“The area where this particular earthquake happened -- it’s my understanding-- there’s one road in, one road out and that road is somewhat controlled by the gang challenged in Haiti, so we’re not comfortable asking our medical professionals, at this point, to make that trip. Where (we) typically send down a group perhaps to help,” Webster said.

Other groups are braving potential harm ignoring the U.S. travel advisory.

Joe Hurston, president with Air Mobile Ministries out of Handcock County, told WVLT News he has worked and lived in Haiti for more than 40 years and knows the in’s and out’s of the country enough to know how to safely navigate.

He brought 10 water purifiers, which could provide water to up to 1,000 people, to the hardest hit areas by way of his private plane Sunday.

“We aren’t foolish and we’re still alive because of God’s grace. We aren’t held to those restrictions so we travel,” Hurston said.

Meanwhile, the Haiti Outreach Program is still trying to figure out a plan to get resources down to those in need. They’re asking for prayers and donations.

You can click here to help.

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