MIAMI – Nurses and doctors have been delayed by temporary airport closures in South Florida, unable to travel to those in Haiti injured by the hurricane that has killed hundreds. Warehouses collecting medicine, food and other supplies have been at a standstill.
As a humanitarian crisis unfolds in their homeland, Haitian-Americans are eager to help. But Matthew, in addition to threatening the U.S., is complicating the relief effort.
About 20 organizations had to suspend operations ahead of Matthew's arrival on Thursday. Volunteers eager to return to work waited in long lines at the Miami Gardens warehouse early Friday, said Sandy Dorsainvil, a Haitian-American community leader in Miami.
"There's a sense of almost panic" about what's happening back in Haiti, Dorsainvil said. "Some areas have lost 95 percent of their homes."
Dorsainvil said she felt more dread about what Matthew was doing in Haiti than the potential effects on her Florida home. She was able to phone to a cousin in the mountains above Port-au-Prince during the storm, but the call was cut off when her cousin suddenly had to take in a neighboring family. "She was watching the neighbor's house blow away — the entire house," Dorsainvil said.
Father Reginald Jean-Marie, pastor of Notre Dame d'Haiti Church, said many Haitian congregants are waiting anxiously on news from loved ones in their homeland.
"There's no contact. Total silence. We haven't heard much," he said Friday.
Unlike the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti's capital, Matthew wrecked scattered parts of the mountainous country, and spotty cellphone service has complicated relief efforts, Dorsainvil said.
The potential for a repeat visit from Matthew, currently forecast to loop back over the Atlantic toward South Florida early next week, has added urgency to the response. Dorsainvil expected over 1,000 boxes of medication and over 400 boxes of food and clothing would need to be dispatched via freight cargo or crowded flights.
"Because the weather is going to be consistently crazy, we have to get a lot in this weekend," she said.
Roman Catholic Church leaders in Miami's Little Haiti and the largely Cuban-American suburb Hialeah have been relaying updates about conditions in both countries, and the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Miami has established a disaster relief fund. The Cuban American National Foundation and the Union Patriotica de Cuba also have been sending food, water and building materials to Cuba this week.
Haiti's government was still trying Friday to assess the wreckage and account for the nearly 300 people who died in remote parts of the impoverished country that Matthew hit Tuesday. The hurricane also damaged hundreds of homes in lightly populated eastern Cuba.
Associated Press writer Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed to this report.