The rain started to hit Jimaní, a town along the heavily deforested border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, in late May 2004. After three days and 20 inches of torrential rainfall, the surrounding water-saturated mountains suddenly released tons of debris. Flash floods swept up boulders, some weighing eight tons, and sent a 15-foot wall of water and mud down onto sleeping villagers on the night of May 24.
Within minutes, about 2,000 lives were wiped out. The dead were found lodged in trees and entombed in debris fields and sandbars throughout the impoverished border region in south-central Hispaniola, the island comprising Haiti and the Dominican Republic. On the Haitian side, the entire village of Mapou was submerged, becoming a shallow lake. On the Dominican side, the waters destroyed about half of Jimaní.
Since 1986, 12 flash floods have hit Hispaniola, and each has created similar havoc. Flash floods are problem enough, but starting about 25 years ago, peasants began using intensive slash-and-burn agricultural methods to cut down forests for fuel and charcoal. Slashing and burning significantly increases the chance of landslides, and Dominican officials began instating stringent regulations in the 1960s to limit deforestation. But on the Haitian side, 90 percent of trees have vanished across the landscape, creating a brown-green line visible in satellite photos of the island, and leaving border towns especially vulnerable during flash floods.
"People need trees," Scott Sabin, the president of Floresta, told Christianity Today. Sabin invited CT to visit Jimaní five years after the flooding disaster to witness how ministries were working with local pastors to address problems caused ...