June 18, 2004 – Four V.I. firefighters have been in Haiti this week making sure that goods collected in the Virgin Islands to help flood and mudslide victims in Hispaniola reached its intended destination.
Ira Williams, Fire Service operations director, and three firefighters flew to the Dominican Republic on Wednesday. Then they drove for eight hours to reach an area along the border with Haiti where 45-foot shipping containers were being offloaded for distribution.
"We left last night around 11 o'clock and we've been on the road from 11 until about 4:30 this morning," Cpl. Eugene Farrell said on Friday in a long-distance call-in to WVWI Radio. With Williams and Farrell were firefighters Jose Sotomayor and Norbert Stout. One went as a translator, and another as a driver, Fire Service administrator Linda Herbert said.
The four-man team was sent to locate two shipping containers sent from the territory packed with drinking water, clothing, canned food, household goods and personal items for victims of the heavy rains and subsequent flash floods and mudslides that killed more than a thousand people last month in south-central Hispaniola along the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The firefighters went "to make sure we have the proper distribution," Herbert said. "They went to help the people sort it out and see that they got what we collected from the people of St. Thomas."
When the Virgin Islanders arrived at the container yard on Friday morning, Farrell said, they found hundreds of containers that had arrived from relief efforts mounted around the world for the flood victims.
"They have so much food and clothes coming down to this region they had to put a commission in place to deal with all of this stuff," he said. "When we came down, there were so many trailers coming through Santo Domingo that one of our trailers wasn't even offloaded from the boat yet after 10 days."
Their mission, he said, was to receive the V.I. shipping container and help distribute its contents to trucks transporting relief supplies to remote villages devastated by the floods.
The relief commission's mandate, Farrell said, is not only to sort the shipped items but also to prevent the theft of the donated goods — something that had reportedly begun to take place.
There were also concerns that flood victims on the Haitian side of the border might get shortchanged on the distribution of supplies, Farrell said. But as the team arrived at the border distribution point, they found Haitians walking into the area to pick up relief supplies and carry them back to their villages. All of the distribution, he said, was being supervised by a local priest.
A second aspect of the Virgin Islanders' mission, Farrell said, was to take additional goods into the area that they bought with cash that was raised as part of the relief drive in the St. Thomas-St. John district. He said the money went much further in Hispaniola, where the U.S. dollar has more buying power, than it would in the territory.
After the team's mission concludes on Saturday, Herbert said, the firemen will be returning home to the Virgin Islands.
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