Heavy rain from Tropical Storm Grace is forcing Haiti’s government to temporarily pause rescue efforts in the aftermath of a deadly weekend earthquake, which has left thousands of people homeless and in need of assistance across the country’s hard-hit southwest.
The pause on Tuesday came after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck on Saturday morning, killing at least 1,419 people and injuring more than 6,900 others, according to the most recent figures from Haiti’s civil protection agency.
The Caribbean country, already struggling to cope with COVID-19, widespread gang violence and political instability worsened in the aftermath of President Jovenel Moise’s killing last month, now faces the difficult task of rebuilding, caring for the injured, and providing emergency shelter and supplies for tens of thousands of displaced families.
By Tuesday morning, only a light rain was falling over Les Cayes, the southern coastal city that bore the brunt of the tremor.
More than 100 people scrambled to repair makeshift coverings made of wooden poles and tarps that were destroyed by the storm overnight in a makeshift encampment. Mathieu Jameson, deputy head of a committee formed by the tent city residents, said hundreds of people there were in urgent need of food, shelter and medical care.
“We don’t have a doctor. We don’t have food. Every morning more people are arriving. We have no bathroom, no place to sleep. We need food, we need more umbrellas,” said Jameson, adding the tent city was still waiting for government aid.
Officials said the earthquake destroyed more than 7,000 homes and damaged nearly 5,000 others, leaving some 30,000 families homeless. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches also were demolished or badly damaged.
“We are in an exceptional situation,” Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry told reporters on Monday as the tropical storm approached.
“As of this Monday, we will act with greater speed. Aid management will be accelerated. We will increase our energy tenfold to reach, in terms of assistance, the most victims as possible,” Henry also tweeted.
‘We need help’
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an 11am (15:00 GMT) update on Tuesday that tropical storm conditions were expected and could bring an additional two to four inches (five to 10cm) of rain to southern Haiti and a maximum of 15 inches (38cm) in some areas.
“This heavy rainfall should lead to flash and urban flooding, and possible mudslides,” the NHC said.
“The already difficult situation has worsened,” the country’s civil protection agency tweeted on Tuesday. It said search and rescue crews had removed 16 people alive from the rubble on Tuesday morning, but that nine more dead bodies had been recovered.
In the district of Marceline, near the city of Camp Perrin in Haiti’s southwest corner, resident Bertha Jean Louis on Tuesday stood in front of her now-destroyed sheet metal dwelling. Nothing remained except a heap of concrete, broken furniture and tattered linens.
This is not the first humanitarian crisis to hit this part of Haiti, however, as Hurricane Matthew caused catastrophic damage in October 2016, levelling an estimated 200,000 homes and killing hundreds.
“We need help finding a house. That’s all. Then we can make do, we’re used to it. We’ll work the land and that will sustain us,” Jean Louis told the AFP news agency.
Her 35-year-old brother died in the collapse of their shared home, her husband has been hospitalised with injuries to both legs, and Jean Louis is now tending to her 75-year-old mother alone while four months pregnant.
“Since Saturday, I’ve been wearing the same dress. I can’t risk going under the rubble to save anything. I just wash my underwear, and when it’s dry, I wash my dress, that’s how I do it because I have nothing saved,” she said.
“I’m totally discouraged, but I know that the Good Lord will send us aid from another country, like what happened after Matthew. That’s why I still have hope.”
Meanwhile, several major hospitals were severely damaged, hampering humanitarian efforts, as were the focal points of many shattered communities, such as churches and schools.
“We have around 34 children hospitalised now, but we still need more help from pediatricians. SOS,” Marie Cherry, a doctor at the Les Cayes general hospital, told the Reuters news agency via text message.
Doctors worked in makeshift tents outside of hospitals to save the lives of hundreds of injured, including young children and the elderly.
The United Nations’ child rights agency (UNICEF) said on Tuesday that about 1.2 million people, including 540,000 children, have been affected by the earthquake. It also said the storm is disrupting access to water, shelter and other services in the hard-hit South, Nippes and Grand’Anse departments.
“Countless Haitian families who have lost everything due to the earthquake are now living literally with their feet in the water due to the flooding,” Bruno Maes, the UNICEF representative in Haiti. said in a statement.
“Right now, about half a million Haitian children have limited or no access to shelter, safe water, healthcare and nutrition.”