The day after Hurricane Matthew hit western Haiti, the country's main airport stopped accepting flights. But across the border, the storm hadn't touched the Dominican Republic. So Michael Capponi, a Miami Beach nightclub promoter-turned-humanitarian, chartered a flight from South Florida to the DR and then hopped a small private plane to Port-au-Prince.
"We were able to get there one day before any other planes were landing," the 44-year-old Capponi says. "We took a small plane and flew it about 250 feet over the ground like a recon flight."
His crew took photos and sent them to CNN, showing the world some of the first images of the devastation the Category 4 hurricane had wrought.
Capponi grew up on ritzy Key Biscayne, but by age 13, he was reportedly slipping out his bedroom window to do LSD on the sly. By the 1990s, he'd developed an infamous $800-per-day heroin habit. But he later kicked drugs and managed to make gobs of money promoting for some of the world's largest nightclubs, including Warsaw and LIV.
He realized he needed to start giving back in 1999, when war broke out in Kosovo. "We got all the nightclubs together to contribute proceeds from the Red Cross," he says. He brought club owners together again to donate for Hurricane Katrina.
But in 2010, after a massive earthquake rocked Haiti and sent the nation spiraling into famine and unrest, Capponi turned his attention there. The next year, he founded the nonprofit Global Empowerment Mission and recruited Wyclef Jean, Donna Karan, and Venus Williams to help promote the effort.
He's visited Haiti 84 times. After Hurricane Matthew struck, Capponi landed in Port-au-Prince with a full team.
"We were able to fill a 20-foot truck for about $13,000 with rice, beans, oil, everything," he says. "We would contact local church leaders, local mayors, who'd tell us: 'Hey, we're stuck on top of this mountain; it's a six-hour drive.' So we'd literally go out there and hand-deliver all this stuff."
He's made seven trips since the hurricane hit and delivered 30,000 pounds of supplies each time. He hopes to make three more trips by the end of the year.
After spending decades throwing epic parties for Miami's richest people, he says he's now able to lobby those same power players to help Haiti.
"When you know all these people, they trust you," he says. "When you ask for help, they're there."
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