Monday, March 1, 2010

Haiti: When it rains it pours

It’s been an extraordinary few weeks in the world's latest disaster zones. A little more than a month after the devastion that befell Haiti the Americas suffered another major earthquake – one of the strongest ever recorded – in Chile that unleashed tsunamis and so far has claimed more than 720 lives. 

Then, in Western Europe, Storm Xyntia claimed some 60 lives in with waves as high as eight meters battering the coasts of Portugal, Spain and France. The west coast of France was hit by winds up to 150 km/h killing at least 48 people. Charente-maritime and Vendée experienced very serious flooding and damage and at least 25 people died in Vendée after a sea wall collapsed in causing massive flooding. Search and rescue operations were still under way at the time of writing with casualties numbers expected to rise. 

Meanwhile back in Haiti, early rains trigger deadly floods, further testing the endurance of a nation reeling from one of the worst disasters of modern times. Occasional contributor to HDEO, Alex Wynter, is on the ground and posted this report today.

Deadly floods saturate Haiti’s south west

It came a month before the official start of the season, but the intense rain that swept through the western end of the southern Haitian promontory over the weekend left parts of the city of Les Cayes under a metre and a half of water and reportedly claimed eight lives. 

Photo: Jean Renand Valiere/UNDP: Intense rain swept through the western end of the southern Haitian promontory over the weekend, leaving parts of the city of Les Cayes (pictured) under a metre and a half of water and reportedly claimed eight lives.

“Yesterday it rained all day long and only stopped early this morning,” said Jean-Yves Placide, regional head of the Haitian Red Cross branch in Les Cayes, 160 km west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. 

“The poor state of the sewers caused flooding in every quarter of the city,” he added “and in some places the waters rose to ceiling level in people’s houses.”


Red Cross branch staff are now working with local authorities to assess the full extent of the damage. Local news reports said people had to climb on to roofs to escape the water cascading through the streets of the town, which is one of Haiti’s most important ports for the coffee and sugar trade. Some houses are said to have collapsed, and patients at Les Cayes hospital had to be moved to safety on upper floors.

Placide says the branch was trying to confirm reports two people had died in Cavaillon, 19 km from Les Cayes. Cavaillon and Les Cayes were also affected by the 12 January quake, if less seriously than Port-au-Prince and other towns to the east.


But like many towns and cities across Haiti, the 70’000 population of Les Cayes has been swollen by refugees from the quake zone, who are staying with friends and relatives or camping in people’s yards and on open spaces.

“There are many people living in the streets who could not sleep last night,” Placide says. “The situation will be really worrying if it continues to rain. The sun is out now, but the storm clouds come and go.”

The flooding in Les Cayes has given renewed urgency to the effort to protect hundreds of thousands of acutely vulnerable people in the more than 300 improvised settlements that sprang up after the earthquake.

The latest figures show that nearly 40 per cent of an estimated total of 1.3m people have now received various shelter materials such as tarpaulins, tents and toolkits.

Hurricane season

But with less than a month to go before the 1st of April start to the rainy season, humanitarian shelter in Haiti is a battle against time.

Neither tents nor tarpaulins are expected to provide much more than minimal protection from the Haitian rainy season, which peaks in May when Port-au-Prince gets an average 230 mm of rain, and sometimes as much as 50 mm in two hours.

“In addition to our earthquake response, we’re taking action to scale up preparations for the hurricane season, which starts around the middle of the year,” says Iain Logan, head of Red Cross operations in Port-au-Prince.

Disaster preparedness

“The early floods in Les Cayes are a sharp reminder that the very significant disaster preparedness effort we started after the 2008 hurricanes will have to be expanded and adapted. We face an almost unique set of circumstances generated by a catastrophic quake, a rainy season, and a hurricane season, one after the other in rapid succession.”

Les Cayes was Sunday cut off by road and – due to lingering bad weather – by air. But a Red Cross team was hoping to get through by air today.

/PC Originally posted on

No comments:

Post a Comment