Haiti seems to have become a test that measures how many consecutive tragedies a people is capable of withstanding. While the areas affected by the powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake are still looking to rise after a toll of around 1,300 dead, 5,700 injured and thousands of homes destroyed —in addition to damage to infrastructure and cuts in basic services— a new natural phenomenon is on the rise. horizon: This time, a tropical storm threatens to hamper rescue efforts with rain and wind.
The phenomenon has weakened as it advances through the Caribbean, but forecasts by the US National Hurricane Center are that Cyclone Grace will pass between Monday night and Tuesday morning near the island of Hispaniola — a territory shared by Haiti and Dominican Republic—and it will leave rain and wind. “These heavy rains can produce sudden and urban floods and possible landslides”, indicates the organization.
As Daniel Arango, disaster coordinator for the Committee of the Red Cross, warns, this could affect efforts to search and rescue earthquake victims. “There is a possibility that there will be more landslides, as landslides have already occurred due to the earthquake. With the floods, there may be more cuts in electricity and water as a result of rain and wind”, he explains. “It will be more difficult for people who are trying to deal with the effects of the earthquake.”
In this regard, the director of the Haitian civil defense agency, Jerry Chandler, acknowledged on Sunday that the country faces another “serious challenge” with the storm, especially after many Haitians have lost their homes, which forces them to sleep on the streets, where they are exposed to rain and the potential spread of diseases due to lack of access to basic sanitation.
The spokesman for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Haiti, Alexandre Michel, warns that while it is difficult to predict what will happen with the tropical depression, it is not difficult to imagine that the situation will get complicated. This is mainly because some of the areas affected by the earthquake are highly floodable, as is the case of Los Cayos, a city of 90,000 inhabitants on the southwest coast, the one most affected by the powerful earthquake that occurred on Saturday.
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The medical organization already has teams distributed in the regions most affected by the earthquake: the South, Grand’Anse, Nippes and Southeast, which have the highest number of dead, injured and houses destroyed by the earthquake. According to Michel, the disaster, whose epicenter was near Saint-Louis du Sud, about 160 kilometers from the capital Port-au-Prince, makes the needs of the population in those places absolute. “First, it is necessary to reach all the affected places to give first aid”, he says in a telephone interview to EL PAÍS. He adds that, due to the destruction of some roads, there are still places that were not reached by the rescue teams, which makes it difficult to count the damages.
“In general, it is a population that lacks everything. The four departments affected by the earthquake were already separated from the rest of the country by the insecurity situation with the capital. They were already very weak economically for two months”, adds Michel. The authority refers to the highway that links Port-au-Prince to the southwest coast, a stretch currently controlled by armed gangs responsible for attacks and kidnappings that made it difficult to transport people and goods.
On Saturday, after the earthquake, Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said that the police and army were moved to the road to ensure the transit of humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, the United Nations is calling for a “humanitarian corridor” to be created for the transfer of aid.
Henry’s government promised to speed up operations to help and assist those affected. “From this Monday we will act more quickly. Aid management will be accelerated. We will redouble our energies to make assistance reach as many victims as possible,” wrote the prime minister on his Twitter account. The day before, he visited Los Cayos. This Monday, the first shipments of humanitarian aid landed at the airport in Port-au-Prince began to arrive, as well as rescue teams and volunteers from different countries who traveled to the Caribbean island on commercial and private flights.
Among the first countries to help Haiti in the midst of this new catastrophe are its Latin American neighbors: in the last few hours, planes with aid and rescue teams from Colombia, Chile and Mexico arrived at the airport in Port-au-Prince. The United States sent first aid and a group of 65 first responders with special equipment.
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