Editor’s note, December 2016: Work has already begun to help the community restore power. The CEAC crew is busy clearing roads, downed power lines, poles, and other material that could be a hazard to the community. Any materials and equipment that can be re-used for re-electrification efforts are also being recovered and salvaged. While American lineworkers and co-op staff are ready to help these Haitian families, it’s still too early to determine when they can. NRECA International is working quickly to make a thorough evaluation of what is needed to restore power and help the community.
It took 17 hours by pickup, motorcycle, and—when all else failed—foot. When officials finally made it to the co-op in Haiti that NRECA International built, what they found was heartbreaking: Hurricane Matthew devastated it.
Cooperative Electrique de l’Arrondisement des Côteaux (CEAC) took a direct hit on Oct. 4, just 13 months after it was inaugurated. The three communities it serves in southwest Haiti are in shambles.
Jaime Doria Medina of NRECA International and Rithot Thilus, CEAC general manager, safely rode out the storm in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Once Matthew passed, they set out in a pickup truck to make what is normally a six-hour, 155-mile drive to Côteaux.
They were able to get about 123 miles to the town of Les Cayes, where they switched to motorcycles. That got them another 28 miles to Roche-à-Bateau, a co-op-served town where the bridge was washed away. There, they ditched the motorcycles and walked the remaining 4 miles to Côteaux—arriving to a scene of utter devastation.
“The communication and transport infrastructure was badly damaged, and it will be quite a challenge for us to design an effective relief and recovery effort,” said Dan Waddle, NRECA International senior vice president.
While all CEAC employees survived, some lost their homes. Almost all of the co-op’s lines and poles are damaged, if not completely destroyed.
The co-op uses a solar-diesel hybrid system to generate electricity, and the initial assessment is that only 20 percent of the solar panels are still usable. The two diesel generators and the two diesel tanks appeared to be OK. But a nursing school in front of the co-op’s power plant disappeared.
All of the windows in a co-op staff house were shattered and the building was full of water. Downed poles, wires and trees littered the roads, and NRECA International officials said initial efforts were focusing on clearing them.
NRECA International has established a special fund to help the co-op. Donations can be made here.
“We have additional staff deployed to the area, because what we need most immediately is data and information regarding the extent of the damage and the resources required to begin to address the needs of the community,” said Waddle.
While it will be a while before electric service can be reestablished, whenever the time comes there should be no shortage of help from U.S. co-ops. Without even being asked, many people are ready to roll.
“I’m ready to go, just let me know when and where,” said Jay Kroeze, lead lineman at Adams Electric Cooperative in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Kroeze volunteered in northern Haiti for another NRECA International project in June 2014.
“Let me know when the dates are to ship out. Passports are ready,” said Randy Evans, a veteran lineman/serviceman at Jacksonville, Arkansas-based First Electric Cooperative, who is also no stranger to NRECA International trips.
“I was fortunate to work in Guatemala on two different trips with Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. through my employer, First Electric Co-op,” said Evans.
NRECA International will continue to post updates on the situation—as well as an eventual call for volunteers—via its website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Before Hurricane Matthew hit, CEAC served 1,000 meters and had 1,200 registered members in Côteaux, Port-à-Piment, and Roche-à-Bateau.