Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Struggle to get aid to isolated regions hit by Hurricane Matthew

The full extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew remains unclear as emergency teams struggle to get to regions cut off by washed-out bridges and landslides. Local teams in isolated regions are currently conducting “search-and-rescue” missions, meaning that the death toll could rise.

Aid teams in Haiti struggle to reach regions slammed by Hurricane Matthew

Paul Schemm and Brian Murphy, The Washington Post

October 5, 2016

A man pushes a bicycle in a flood zone after Hurricane Matthew passed through Les Cayes, Haiti on Tuesday. (Picture from original article)


Emergency teams in Haiti struggled Wednesday to reach hurricane-ravaged areas cut off by washed-out bridges and mudslides after Hurricane Matthew roared over the nation’s western tip and began a devastating island-hopping path that arcs toward the U.S. coast.

The full extent of Matthew’s blow to Haiti remained unclear, with communications almost fully severed to some regions in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation — where tens of thousands of people still live in tents after an earthquake six years ago killed 200,000 people.

At least 11 deaths — including at least four in the neighboring Dominican Republic — have been blamed on the hurricane, which packed winds of up 145 mph when it swept over Haiti on Tuesday and then moved toward Cuba and the Bahamas. A slightly weakened Matthew was expected to make landfall in Florida on Thursday.

“What we know is that many, many houses have been damaged,” Haitian Interior Minister François Anick Joseph said. “Some lost rooftops and they’ll have to be replaced, while others were totally destroyed.”

John Hasse, national director of the aid group World Vision in Haiti, estimated “thousands of houses destroyed or damaged” in the areas hardest hit. The Haitian government said at least 350,000 people were in immediate need of help around the country, the United Nations noted. At the same time, fears rose of possible outbreaks of cholera or other diseases.

Samuel Darguin, a worker with the aid group Haitian American Caucus-Haiti, said relief convoys were prevented from reaching many areas because bridges had been swept away by floodwaters.

Local teams in the isolated regions were in “search-and-rescue mode,” he said, with reports of people missing. That suggested the death toll could rise. The Reuters news agency, citing officials in various countries, placed the tally at 17 dead along Matthew’s path through the Caribbean. The figure could not be independently verified.

Faced with the devastation, Haiti’s electoral council on Wednesday postponed a long-delayed presidential election that was scheduled for Sunday. There was no immediate word on when it would be held.

International aid was underway, meanwhile, with a focus on shelter and clean water. The U.S. Navy has sent three ships to Haiti, including an aircraft carrier and a hospital ship. About 300 Marines were aboard the USS Mesa Verde, an amphibious transport vessel.

The United States announced $1.5 million in aid available to the Caribbean countries in Matthew’s wake. Disaster response teams were pre-positioned with some supplies, and were assessing the damage and urgent relief needs, said Kenneth Merten, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere and a special coordinator on Haiti.

High winds and heavy rain have created a catastrophic situation in Haiti. The U.N. is warning Hurricane Matthe brought the worst humanitarian crisis to Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. (Reuters)

Beyond food, the aid includes shelter, blankets, and kits for hygiene and water purification to help prevent the spread of cholera, said David Harden, an official with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Venezuela, battered by a major economic crisis, mobilized an airlift of humanitarian supplies, and the British-based group Oxfam concentrated on sanitation and clean water efforts.

Many people live in rudimentary shacks crowding the hillsides that are especially vulnerable to the high winds and lashing rains of a hurricane — as well as the landslides that often occur afterward in rain-loosened soil.

In Port-au-Prince, the capital, water remained knee-deep in some low-lying districts. Boats and other flotsam were wedged amid stores and homes.

Mourad Wahba, the U.N. deputy special representative for Haiti, called Matthew “the largest humanitarian event” in the nation since the earthquake and said that “much of the population” has already been displaced.

Jean-Michel Vigreux, director in Haiti for the aid group CARE, said estimates on damage have reached as high as $1 billion even before the full extent of the devastation is tallied.

“It is very scary,” he said in a statement.

By early afternoon Wednesday, Matthew’s eye was about 70 miles south of Long Island in the Bahamas, with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, the National Hurricane Center reported. The storm — now downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane — was heading northwest at 12 mph on a path that would take it through the Bahamas before spinning toward Florida.

Officials in the Bahamas urged residents to move to higher ground amid the dozens of low-lying islands in the archipelago. In Cuba, the damage appeared limited as authorities spent days preparing, including moving people out of threatened coastal areas.

At the Guantanamo Bay naval base on Cuba’s eastern tip, about 700 family members of U.S. personnel and others were evacuated before Matthew hit.

Images posted on social media showed raging, muddy floodwaters nearly overflowing river banks and driving wind and rain that bent palm trees nearly in half. The winds sheared roofs from ramshackle houses, uprooted trees, washed out bridges, and clogged rivers and roads with debris.

In one dramatic video, a man shouted in English, “Pray for us,” as Matthew lashed the small port of Les Cayes on Haiti’s southwestern coast Tuesday.

Chris Bessey, a Catholic Relief Services representative based Port-au-Prince, said the storm blew part of the roof off the charity’s two-story building in Les Cayes and knocked out its generator. The main road to southern Haiti was cut because a bridge was washed out at Petit-Goave, he said by telephone from Port-au-Prince.

“Yet right up until the storm hit, we still heard many people saying, ‘We’re waiting on God’ and not making preparations,” said Hasse, the World Vision official. He said that the charity has warehouses stocked with blankets, tarps, water cans and hygiene kits to assist nearly 100,000 people, but that “we expect it to go well over a million to even millions of people affected by this.”

Relief officials said many people rejected pleas to evacuate, fearing that they would lose their belongings to looters. For some, who changed their minds as the storm unleashed its fury, it was now too late to help them, the officials said.

In the vast Cité Soleil slum in Port-au-Prince, 130 children were evacuated from an orphanage ahead of winds and rain that authorities feared could ravage the densely populated area of tin shanties, open sewers and canals.


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