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September 24, 2004
Why them? Why the poorest country in the hemisphere? The one that staggers, still, in its recovery from bloody political upheaval? While Hurricane Jeanne hurtled toward Haiti I listened to the radio weather reports, as if to the inevitable unfolding doom of an ancient Greek tragedy.

Of course, there have been hurricane deaths in many places. Terrible destruction of homes and businesses. A church in the Diocese of Bethlehem literally under water. All of it is tragic. But the toll in the nation with the fewest resources to help itself now stands at more than a thousand, and will double or even triple as the mud is cleared and more of the dead are found. No time even to identify them: they are carried in dump trucks to their final resting place, anonymous mass graves dug in haste.

Many homes are thinly constructed. Many people don't have homes at all. That's one reason why them: their suffering is not, strictly speaking, entirely from a natural disaster. The very poor have fewer defenses, and the ones they have are weaker. They are easy to sweep away. A wall of water roars into a street and everyone is gone -- it takes about three seconds. Jeanne will roll over many communities before she is finished -- she has just become a hurricane again, after subsiding for a day or two into the lesser category of tropical storm -- but she will not claim as many victims in other places. Other people can get away.

The people's shock and sorrow over the terrible destruction in the Diocese of Bethlehem was always coupled with a sober note of thanksgiving: We got out with our lives. Treasured vestments, books, heirloom silver, delicate musical instruments, the holy things of divine worship, given by the faithful to the glory of God over generations -- the loss of these things hits their hearts like a boot to the solar plexus. But we're still alive.

Just now, I hear on the radio that Jeanne may be turning toward Florida. Oh, no, I say to Q. How much more can those poor souls take? But the infrastructure of a prosperous society will evacuate them, get them to safety, bring them food and water as quickly as possible, airlift the injured to hospitals where clean white sheets and plenty of medicine await them. Insurance adjusters wait in hotels for their work to begin. Tragic, all this loss. But thank God we're still alive. And God rest the thousands in Haiti who never even had a chance.


You can minister to all the needs of those stricken by the recent spate of hurricanes through Episcopal Relief and Development at, or call 1-800-334-7626.
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