Tropical Storm Grace’s heavy rains pour misery on Haiti earthquake survivors

  • Flash flood and landslides complicate relief efforts
  • Power remains out with 50mm of rain an hour falling

Tropical Storm Grace has lashed southern Haiti with drenching rains, piling on misery for survivors of a powerful earthquake as flash floods and landslides further complicate relief efforts.

Power was still out and communications spotty on Tuesday morning in parts of southern Haiti after inches of heavy rain and 35mph winds bore down on the embattled region, just two days after it was hit by the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

Rainwater turned the streets of Haiti’s quake-struck Tiburon peninsula to rivers within a few minutes of tropical storm Grace making landfall on the island of Hispaniola, which Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. Rain fell at a rate of 50mm (2in) an hour across much of the region.

As the rain continued to pelt down on Tuesday, Haitian officials raised the confirmed death toll from Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake to 1,941, with more than 9,900 injured and 30,000 people left homeless. Rescue workers continue to search rubble for survivors.

Hospitals, already full, are treating patients in patios and corridors. Medical supplies including personal protective equipment for staff and painkillers and splints for patients remain scarce.

“The hospital is in a bad place, with water filling the yard,” said Sterens Yppolyte, a 26-year-old trainee doctor at Les Cayes’ Immaculate Conception hospital, who has been unable to get much sleep since his home was partially destroyed by the earthquake. “People are crying for help, for tents, for shelter and for a message of hope.”

Marjorie Modesty, a psychologist living in Les Cayes who was helping to coordinate aid deliveries through a family-support organisation she runs, voiced similar despair.

“This is what the country needs: tents, food, medicine, toiletries, water, clothes, rescue equipment and wheelchairs,” said Modesty, whose own home was flooded on Monday night. “People are fleeing their houses. We need rescuing.”

A woman looks on in a makeshift camp in Les Cayes, Haiti.
A woman looks on in a makeshift camp in Les Cayes, Haiti. Photograph: Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters

Residents are fearful of entering or sleeping in their homes, worried that they may either collapse in ongoing aftershocks or flood due to the stormwaters, and instead are opting to sleep in tents or under tarps.

Widespread deforestation for the production of charcoal has left the region more vulnerable to disaster.

“During the earthquake, water gushed out of the soil and soaked it, making it unable to absorb the rainwater,” said Paul Touloutte, the provost of the American University of the Caribbean, who has been visiting hospitals and other affected areas of southern Haiti since the weekend. “The conditions are now ripe for more problems with so many heavily damaged constructions and serious flooding possibility.”

Fiammetta Cappellini, country representative for the NGO AVSI, described harrowing scenes in Les Cayes, where the rain had been pouring for 15 hours.

“We’ve seen 50% of buildings destroyed in the city, and around 80% destroyed in the surrounding rural areas,” Cappellini said. “Roads in and out are blocked, even motorcycles cannot pass. By land, sea, and air, we are isolated.”

Two of the poorest parts of the city – La Savane and Deye Fort – which are both by the sea, are completely flooded.

Elsewhere in the city, nine people drowned when flood waters swept through a building where storm refugees had taken shelter. Sixteen others were rescued from the torrent.

“Because of the economic, social and political crisis, and because of insecurity, there are very few agencies and NGOs working in the field in Haiti right now, and especially here in the south,” Cappellini said. “So the response falls on those that are already in the field and we are very, very few.”

Haiti – the western hemisphere’s poorest nation – has not recovered from the catastrophic magnitude 7 earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in January 2010, killing more than 200,000 people and turning much of the chaotic capital to rubble. The latest quake was two decimal points bigger in magnitude, though it struck a less densely populated region.

Criminal gangs also maraud the country’s south, with the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reporting that local officials had to negotiate with militia leaders to secure the safe passage of aid caravans through Martissant, a rough neighbourhood on the southern highway that connects the capital with Les Cayes.

Political violence and urban gang warfare has racked Haiti for more than two years, with roadblocks, fuel shortages and power outages a daily reality. The situation only worsened with the brazen assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July, allegedly carried out by Colombian mercenaries.


Joe Parkin Daniels

The GuardianTramp

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