Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No Doubting Thomas - Hurricane Preparedness at full speed in Haiti

HDEO gives an update on preparation efforts in Haiti ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Thomas and the damage it is expected to wreak. The next 48hrs will be all about trying to save lives before disaster strikes.

Investing in preparedness against natural disasters and severe weather events is a hallmark of the Red Cross community-level approach which stresses prevention and preparation over the knee-jerk, parachute response. This investment before disaster strikes is about to be tested to the core as Hurricane Tomas threatens Haiti. Authorities are predicting that the storm will make landfall on Haiti’s south-west on Friday, and may come close to making a direct hit on Port-au-Prince and other earthquake affected areas on Saturday.

The country is on high alert. The government is already advising people to seek
shelter with families and friends over the weekend, or to take whatever steps they
can to protect their families and their assets.

Even if there is not a direct hit, the storm is big enough and strong enough to see heavy rains and strong winds affect communities across the whole of the country, particularly the South. We know from experiences in 2004 and 2008 that even tropical storms or heavy rain can be catastrophic for the country.

How is the Red Cross preparing

We have been preparing for this kind of event since the first weeks of the earthquake response. Historically we know that Haiti is disproportionately vulnerable to hurricanes, and that even tropical storms or just heavy rain can trigger serious disasters.

We have reached tens of thousands of people through disaster preparedness activities in dozens of camps. We have worked with communities to help them dig drainage ditches, sandbag hillsides and create evacuation routes. In addition, Red Cross volunteers have provided emergency first aid training, and handed out waterproof bags that contain safety messages and can be used to store and protect important documents.

We have sent 1.5 million of SMS to communities since Monday right across the country, providing people with simple and accessible information on the steps they can take to minimize hurricane danger. These important messages have also been relayed through our weekly, national radio programme (Radio Croix Rouge Haitienne), through messages carried through camps on ‘sound’ trucks, and through dialogue between communities and trained Red Cross volunteers.

What’s in stock…

We have enough emergency stocks in country for 17,000 families. These include emergency shelter kits (tarpaulins, rope, nails and tools), jerrycans, hygiene kits, and kitchen sets (for example).

Additional supplies for 8,000 families are coming this week from the Red Cross’ regional hub in Panama. Supplies for 500 families have been sent from Port-au-Prince to Les Cayes to bolster readiness there. Supplies for a further 500 families also sent tomorrow to Jeremie.

Red Cross volunteers will continue to visit camps across the earthquake affected area, working to make sure that as many people as possible are aware of the storm and have information on what they can do to protect themselves.

Eight emergency response teams (ERTs) are on standby in Jacmel, Leogane and Port-au-Prince. These multi-disciplinary teams, comprising representatives from all Red Cross societies in Haiti can quickly respond to the disaster, providing us with rapid assessments and guiding the crucial initial delivery of assistance.

We also have the capacity to quickly bring in additional resources from the region or globally. A team of highly-skilled disaster assessment experts (known as a Field Assessment Coordination Team – FACT) has been placed on standby.

As Thomas approaches, direct hit or not, we will be relying on the fact that intense preparedness for inevitable storms and hurricanes will pay off.


Note to Journalists - Broadcast quality b-roll, showing the disaster preparedness efforts of the Red Cross in Haiti can be accessed at

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