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LDS Church sending aid to Haitian survivors

Water, food are the top needs; churches being used for shelter

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 2:37 a.m. MDT

Workers prepare humanitarian shipments on Thursday at the LDS Bishops Central Storehouse in Salt Lake City.  (August Miller, Deseret News) Workers prepare humanitarian shipments on Thursday at the LDS Bishops Central Storehouse in Salt Lake City. (August Miller, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Water, food, shelter, medical care.

Those are the drastic needs for the survivors in Haiti in the wake of Tuesday's massive earthquake. And The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is trying to respond by delivering emergency-relief products and people to meet those needs.

"We've learned that water and food are the greatest needs," said Nate Leishman, the LDS Church's manger of humanitarian emergency response.

All the needs are being identified by Haitian church leaders locally and with government and relief organizations, Leishman added.

All LDS meetinghouses in Haiti escaped unscathed and are being used in relief efforts, either to help house and care for survivors or to help distribute supplies as they arrive.

Nate Leishman (August Miller, Deseret News) Nate Leishman (August Miller, Deseret News)

"There have been 500 to 600 staying at a few of the meetinghouses, he said. "All buildings are sturdy; there's no structural damage, and they're safe to use as shelters."

As Leishman spoke Thursday afternoon at the church's Bishops Central Storehouse and Humanitarian Center complex, palettes were being stacked with supplies and loaded onto trucks, destined for the devastated Caribbean island nation.

The LDS Church has already sent supplies into Haiti, primarily from its Caribbean Area offices in neighboring Dominican Republic.

More is on the way — food, supplies, even medical personnel are en route.

On Friday, a jet will leave Denver loaded with 80,000 pounds of supplies donated by the LDS Church, including 12,000 water-filtration bottles, food, blankets, tarps, tents and powdered milk.

One water filtration bottle can filter 400 gallons. So far, the church has packaged some 30,000 bottles to be sent.  (August Miller, Deseret News) One water filtration bottle can filter 400 gallons. So far, the church has packaged some 30,000 bottles to be sent. (August Miller, Deseret News)

Another flight carrying an additional 80,000 pounds of supplies is expected to leave from Miami on Saturday.

The church is also coordinating the transport of medical professionals who will assist injured Haitians, establishing a makeshift medical center in a Mormon meetinghouse in one of the most affected areas.

Soon after the earthquake, the church sent two pickup trucks loaded with hygiene kits, blankets, food boxes to sustain a family of four for upward of two weeks and kits for caring for newborns — a limited number of humanitarian supplies already on hand in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Also trucked over to Haiti on passable roads in affected areas were containers of extra fuel to supply the cars of local Haiti church leaders, who were out trying to deliver relief items and assessing needs.

Since the LDS Church also works with other relief organizations in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, additional supplies have been stockpiled in their warehouses, and church leaders have been drawing upon those in the first wave of assistance, Leishman said.

In addition to the limited supplies already on the island, the LDS Church is benefiting from another lesson learned from its efforts assisting following hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.

Communications in and out of Haiti are hindered, given that telephone and cellular service both have been wiped out. After the recent massive hurricanes, the church provided three solar-powered satellite phones — one to its mission president in the capital city of Port-au-Prince and the others to the two local stake presidents there.

Clean water is a key necessity. With some limited running water available in the affected areas, one hand-held-sized filtration bottle can filter 400 gallons, Leishman said. The church has already packaged some 30,000 filtration bottles, with another 15,000 en route to the church to forward on to Haiti.

The hygiene kits are the standard humanitarian staple provided by the LDS Church throughout the world — two combs, four toothbrushes, two bars of soap, two cotton hand towels and one large tube of toothpaste.

Given the deadly, destructive nature of Tuesday's quake, Leishman said the assessment phase of relief efforts may last two to three weeks. And the recovery phase may last two to three years, with housing, hospitals, schools, government buildings and infrastructure needing to be rebuilt.

"Even in its best days, Haiti is a challenging place to live," he said.

Little by little, the initial emotions of shock and sadness in Haiti are being replaced by hints of hope. It's more of the latter the LDS Church is hoping to instill in Haiti.

"The airport's open; flights are landing," he said. "Small bits of news like that are very gratifying."

Especially when you're in a delivery business like Leishman and the LDS Church.

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company