An opportunity to help

Just a few months after the eastern part of Haiti was severely affected by flooding, a new natural disaster has hit the poorest country in the Americas.

This time, Tropical Storm Jeanne has brought extensive damage to Gonaives, a city of 250,000 in the Northwest region of the country.

According to Pierre Imbert, director of the Catholic Charities Haitian Multi-Service Center in Dorchester, 80 percent of the city has suffered the effects of the storm.

He said the situation in the area “was very bad and difficult in itself. Now you have a disaster on top of it. It is a humanitarian situation of catastrophic proportions.”

Imbert said that Haitian government sources estimate that as many as 1,000 bodies have been collected and many more areas are still inaccessible to rescue teams.

“Because of the situation of the bodies, we have decided to bury the dead in mass graves,” the Associated Press quoted Interior Minister Herard Abraham as saying.

In response to the flooding earlier this year, Archbishop Seán O’Malley called for a special second collection at all Masses. The amount collected —$150,000 — was sent to Catholic Relief Services this summer.

“A storm of great intensity descended on villages and towns that were already coping with the effects of the weeks of heavy rain and flooding,” the archbishop said in a May statement accompanying the call for the collection. “The number of casualties of this storm is rapidly increasing. Virtually every family in the areas hit by the storm is in need as dwellings have been swept away and clean water, food and medical supplies are in desperately short supply.”

That call for aid is still valid and even more urgent now as this latest disaster compounds the suffering of the Haitian people.

And that suffering is felt here in Boston. “Many Haitians living in Greater Boston are from that area,” said Imbert.

As news of the tragedy reached the States, hundreds of Haitians visited or contacted the Multi-Service Center anxiously seeking more information about their homeland. Some, sadly, were forced to share their grief at the news of dead or missing relatives.

According to Imbert, whole villages are still unaccounted for. “It was just overwhelming,” he said.

The Haitian community in the Greater Boston area is a “strong 80,000 members,” according to Imbert. Many live in Dorchester but there are significant Haitian communities in Lynn, Waltham, Brockton, Somerville and Malden.

The Haitian Multi-Service Center has set up a relief fund which will be sent to Catholic Relief Services in support of the victims in Gonaives and surrounding areas.

“The people need help immediately,” he said. “I am asking for all people of good will to join in support of their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in Boston whose families are in horrible grief as we speak. We ask for the compassion of all people of good will.”

“What we hear from them is that they need donations in the form of cash. That is how we can best help the people with the needs that they have,” he said.

Boston Catholics have a tradition of helping those affected by natural disasters. From hurricane Mitch to the earthquakes in El Salvador and Peru, we have responded with great generosity. We have yet another opportunity to help those who have lost everything and sometimes all whom they hold dear. Please be generous.

At press time, the account number for “The Haitian Flood Relief Fund” established by Haitian Multi-Service Center at Citizens Bank was not available. For more information, please contact the center at 617-436-2848. Donations can also be sent directly to Catholic Relief Services by calling 1-800-CALL-CRS, or at; checks with “Haiti” written in the memo line can be sent to Catholic Relief Services, 209 W. Fayette St., Baltimore, Md., 21201.