Haiti Still Needs Help Rebuilding After Hurricane Matthew

For days after Hurricane Matthew battered the coast of Haiti Tuesday, October 4, people living in the country's most remote areas looked for ways to communicate with the outside world.

With cell towers down, they couldn't talk to faraway loved ones or send photos of the damage. Journalists from all over the world parachuted in to survey the destruction in larger cities such as Port-au-Prince, but accessing rural villages was out of the question at that point.

While the death toll in Haiti rose to 1,000, the hurricane passed through Florida without much damage beyond some flooding and short-term power outages. By that Friday, the U.S. news media was already hot on the trail of another explosive story: the release of Access Hollywood footage in which Donald Trump was heard bragging about using his fame to sexually assault women. The story fed the 24-hour news cycle the whole weekend, followed by wall-to-wall coverage of the second and third presidential debates, and finally, on November 8, election results.

Though it's been only a few weeks since the hurricane made landfall in Haiti, some Floridians with ties to the country say Americans have largely forgotten about the ongoing need there.

"In the first week, the media brought a lot of attention to it," says Jacqueline Exceus, a Miramar Police Department crime scene investigator who has family in Haiti. "But no one is donating anymore. No one is talking about it. It's like nothing even happened."

Arlande Blaise, a West Palm Beach resident who was born in Bombardopolis in northwest Haiti, says she's been posting photos of the damage to Facebook to raise awareness.

"Right now... nobody focuses on the hurricane," she says. "Everybody is focused on the election, election, election."

Though the southern part of Haiti received the most direct impact from the storm, other parts of the country have also suffered. The storm wiped out fields of crops and left a path of dead livestock in its wake, making access to food difficult. In a nation still reeling from a devastating earthquake in 2010, contamination of water has led to a resurgence of cholera cases.

"A lot of people died from cholera, and [there's] no food, no water, no clothes, nothing," says Blaise, whose relatives still live in her hometown. "Everything is going to south, south, south."

Lex Pierre-Louis, a marketing exec in Aventura, says his hometown, Leogane, didn't bear the brunt of the storm but was still badly bruised. The hurricane destroyed 30 to 40 percent of his family's crops, "and that's not in an area that's even been hit that hard."

"People are not realizing how conditions are actually getting worse," he says. "There are going to be long-term effects, people suffering malnutrition. People rely on these fields; they eat off the land."

Pierre-Louis believes a lack of cell service, more so than the American election, is to blame for decreasing media coverage. In many places, he says, people were forced to drive or take a bus one or two hours to enter an area with cell service.

"You could not get your pictures out of cities that were hit the worst. That didn't really start coming to social media until like two weeks after, so there was a delay in really being able to see how devastating it was," he says. "And two weeks after, the news had already moved onto the next thing."

Yesterday Natcom cell tower #hurricanemathewleogane @iamlexpierrelouis @leoganeriders @fritzleogane

A video posted by yvon Pierre louis (@yvonpl) on

Pierre-Louis and Exceus are part of the Haitian American Hurricane Matthew Relief Effort, which has sent volunteers and medical professionals to the country on mission trips. Pierre-Louis says he is looking for someone to donate a charter plane to deliver toys and supplies to Haiti for the holidays. The group is crowdfunding its efforts to take clean water, medical supplies, and hygiene items to those in need.

Exceus will be a part of the group's third trip to Haiti, scheduled for December, and plans to reunite with her cousin Wilbertha Joseph, who lives in Port-au-Prince and has been trying to get supplies to remote areas.

"Haiti still needs help, and there are reputable places you can still give to," says Exceus, who has been working with Man Dodo, a local foundation that serves those in Haiti. "Donations matter, especially in the crisis of this hurricane aftermath. It's very serious."