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Massachusetts mobilizes to help Haitian relief

Men salvaged metal sheets Saturday from a destroyed house after Hurricane Matthew passed in Jeremie, Haiti. Carlos Garcia Rawlins/REUTERS

A pair of Massachusetts nonprofits have mobilized to help international relief efforts in Haiti, but their medical personnel on the scene are encountering flooded roads and failing infrastructure as casualties continue to rise in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

“We’re seeing extensive devastation across the area,” said Liz Schwartz, spokeswoman at St. Boniface Haiti Foundation , a Newton-based nonprofit with a hospital in the hard-hit town of Fond-des-Blancs.

Hundreds of deaths on the island had been reported as of Saturday evening, according to the Reuters news agency.

Extensive flooding has made travel to and from the hospital nearly impossible, said Samuel Bernard, medical director of St. Boniface Hospital, which the foundation opened in 1983.


“The roads are very difficult, and many of the rivers are very high,” Bernard wrote in an e-mail from Haiti. “Our ambulances can only get through some of the roads at this point. So most patients in our area who need our help are still not able to get to us.”

The storm made landfall in the western Haitian town of Les Anglais on Tuesday. The situation there is “horrific,” the foundation’s chief executive, Conor Shapiro, said, with no clean water, little housing, and more reported cholera cases.

Shapiro arrived in Les Anglais Saturday night and found the situation there “dire,” he said.

He was the first relief worker to reach the town since Tuesday, he said.

“They have no food, shelter, or medicine,” he said.

St. Boniface Hospital sees about 400 patients on a normal week, Schwartz said. It has admitted fewer people than expected after a storm of such magnitude, as ambulances struggle to reach the injured.

“In particular [it has] been very difficult to get vehicles through,” Schwartz said. “That’s starting to improve, but it’s going to take time.”

Milton-based nonprofit Saint Rock Haiti Foundation, founded in 1981, reopened its medical clinic on the island Thursday after the hurricane.


Its two dozen employees are all Haitian, and the foundation avoids sending US volunteers to the island in October during hurricane season, said Jocelyn Bresnahan, the foundation’s president.

Saint Rock provides health care and social services to Haitians in the town of Saint Rock. On Saturday, its medical staff was focused on reaching communities not accessible by car, said Sarah Gleason, the foundation’s director of US operations.

“The population of rural Haiti is so vulnerable to begin with [that] most of the people we work with, their shelters are dirt floors,” said Gleason, who added that Haiti’s extended drought and loose topsoil contributed to a massive destruction in the area’s crops.

“People having lost their crops this time of year creates long-term concerns over hunger in coming months,” St. Boniface’s Schwartz said.

Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, who is of Haitian descent, counts cholera among her chief concerns for Haitians. “Now that [the] hurricane is over, cholera no doubt will spread,” Forry said in an interview.

An estimated 9,000 Haitians have died of cholera since the earthquake in 2010, Schwartz said.

Amanda Burke can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @charlie_acb.