From Episcopal News Service (ENS)

The Episcopal Church continued Jan. 14 to respond to the devastating impact of the massive earthquake that destroyed wide swaths of Haiti.

Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief and Development's program manager for USA disaster preparedness and response, soon will be traveling to the Dominican Republic, Haiti's western neighbor on the island of Hispaniola, to further assess the situation and coordinate the agency's response to this disaster, according to a news release.

The magnitude 7 earthquake, whose epicenter struck 10 miles southwest of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, at 4:53 p.m. local time on Jan. 12, was immediately followed by a series of aftershocks. About a third of Haiti's approximately 9 million people live in Port-au-Prince.

ERD disbursed emergency funding to the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Haiti on Jan. 13 to help them meet immediate needs such as providing shelter, food and water.

Roads in the country are blocked with debris, people who have no place to live and the dead. The Haitian Red Cross estimated that between 45,000 and 50,000 at the very least have died.

Buildings have been reduced to rubble and many hospitals and clinics are inoperable. In addition, limited communications are hampering attempts to coordinate relief efforts.

The New York Times reported Jan. 14 that the Haitian National Police have virtually disappeared and Haitians are "slowly getting more angry," according to a spokesman for United Nations mission in Haiti. There are 3,000 United Nations peacekeepers Port-au-Prince and another 6,000 elsewhere in the country. The U.S. said that close to 3,000 soldiers would be in the country by the end of the weekend.

While Haiti's airspace was opened briefly on Jan. 14, priority was given to rescue operations such as the Red Cross, U.N.-coordinated efforts and national response teams, ERD said in its release. Updated reports indicate that the Port-au-Prince airport has been unable to handle the influx of flights and closed again due to overcrowded runways and lack of fuel. Ports also remain closed and there is no indication they will be opened in the immediate future.

Meanwhile, Haitians in various stages of health are already fleeing into the Dominican Republic. In addition, because it is the closest place where the infrastructure is intact, the country is already becoming an important relay point in the wave of assistance that is building.

Mears will work with the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic to conduct a situation assessment to determine how the diocese can best help.

"We're going to get Katie on the ground there to assist the bishop (Julio Holguin) and his team in what is going to be a major effort," ERD President Robert Radtke told ENS.

The diocese "is already serving the wounded who have been able to cross the Haitian border," Kirsten Muth, ERD interim director for international programs, said in the release. "Working through the Dominican Republic and utilizing our existing relationships with partners there is one of the most efficient initial approaches for meeting immediate needs."

Holguin has an excellent staff with "great skills and capacity" to assist its neighbors, said Radtke.

"I will be working with the diocesan staff of the Dominican Republic to overcome the logistical challenges of getting supplies to our partners in Haiti," Mears said in the release. "Our hope is to be prepared so that when roads become passable, we can get help to affected Haitians as quickly as possible."

Relief and recovery "is going to be a long-term process," Radtke told ENS. "The work of the Episcopal Church will become increasingly important."

"This disaster has really just started," he said, explaining that the earthquake has and will continue to trigger a series of serious crises having to do with public health, security, refugees and other concerns.

Haiti is one of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church's 12 overseas dioceses. It is a member of Province II and the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church.  It has partnerships with many U.S. Episcopal Church dioceses and congregations. Many of those partners have been trying to contact their colleagues in Haiti. The diocese serves between 100,000 and 150,000 people in 168 congregations. There are less than 40 active clergy, most of whom serve multiple congregations in urban and rural areas.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent of Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly.