01 November 2016

One month after Matthew: A harrowing account from Haiti

Today's post is by a special guest: a woman who experienced the full fury of Hurricane Matthew in western Haiti.  Cheryl Nichols contacted me the day before the hurricane struck to thank me for giving Haiti attention in a blog post I wrote that day.  It was too difficult and too late to leave, so she sheltered in place.  I was thinking about her the morning Matthew made landfall there, hoping I'd hear from her again once electricity and communication lines were back up. Sure enough, three weeks later, I did, and what follows is her account and photos of the event.

Satellite image of Hurricane Matthew on the morning of October 4th, just as it was making landfall on southwest Haiti.
Nearly one month ago, on October 4th, Category 4 Hurricane Matthew hit the southwest Haitian peninsula of Grand Anse with a vengeance. I had arrived in Jeremie, the capital of and largest town in the Grand Anse on the 25th of September to teach English at UNOGA (Universite de Nouvelle de Grand Anse) for a three week session. This was my third visit to UNOGA in the last five years.

The weekend before the storm, I started tracking it as it passed through the lower Caribbean, just north of Colombia. The path of the storm seemed to indicate that it would turn northwest toward Jamaica, then Cuba.  Not being a meteorologist, I don’t know how many storms did what Matthew did: it seemed to take an almost right-hand turn and head due north, right toward Haiti.

Map of Matthew's track, with an inset map showing Jeremie's location on the peninsula.
As you may know from news reports and social media, Jeremie was ‘ground zero’ as the storm came ashore.

Radar loop from Guantanamo Bay showing Hurricane Matthew's eyewall passing over the western tip of Haiti and the eastern tip of Cuba. The city of Jeremie is on the northern side of the peninsula on the bottom of the images.
A Haitian professor, myself, and one of our students had stayed in the guest house in Jeremie to wait out the storm. I was sure the house would hold because it had stood for over a century enduring many storms in its history. Matthew, however, was its undoing. Just as the house started to collapse, the three of us managed to escape and our student had the presence of mind to get us through the brunt of the storm to a neighbor’s house where the family gave us not only shelter but dry clothes, food, beds, and comfort. I will be forever grateful to these two Haitian men who saw to my safety during the storm and my welfare for the several days following.

The guest house before (left) and after (right) the storm.  In the photo on the right, you can see the second floor had collapsed into the first floor.  Large trees are snapped or uprooted. (photos by Cheryl Nichols)
View of the Caribbean, which was previously blocked by trees. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)
I was able to get a ride to Port au Prince the following Sunday, very sad to leave Jeremie at a time when there were such great needs. Although I couldn’t help with the immediate rebuilding, I’ve been able through a network of family and friends, to raise money for both relief and long term redevelopment.

I am now in the north of Haiti in Gros Morne where I had planned to come for three weeks following my time in Jeremie. I am still reflecting on all that has happened to so many people that I have come to know and love over the last five years. I was grateful to have been part of this tragedy, to be a presence so that Haitians know they are not forgotten, and that a wider world cares about and wants to help them in an enduring way.

If you would like to support the recovery efforts, a couple "low overhead" charitable groups that I recommend and support are:

Haitian Connection
Catholic Relief Services

Cheryl teaching English in Haiti.


  1. I thank you, Chery Nicholsl, and Brian McNoldy for sharing this story and giving us a good way to help our friends in Haiti. I had chills looking at maps while this was happening, and saw Jeremie right at the eye of the storm. Cheryl, you had just sent out an email about sheltering in place in Jeremie. I'm so glad you didn't stay in place and that others were there to help you.

  2. Thank you, Cheryl, for telling your story of Haiti during and after Hurricane Matthew. I am so grateful that you are with us to tell it. Thank you Brian for sharing Cheryl's account far and wide so others will know about the people of Haiti and their needs. The pictures are chilling! Thanks for letting us know how we can help.

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience. It's such an inspiration to hear you say that you are grateful that you were in Haiti during Matthew so that you could offer your support. I am shocked by the level of destruction. Thank God you are safe.

  4. I'M seeing this on election day and am awed over what Cheryl endured and her gratitude for going through such a horrendous experience. I think of Richard Rohr calling God a waterwheel of love that never stops. That's our Cheryl. Thank you Cheryl full of Grace. We're privileged to know and love you. May your goodness rub off. Brian, thank's for being the channel.