Storm damage hampers relief efforts in Haiti, Carolinas
Disaster relief | Hundreds of thousands in the Carolinas still don’t have power after storm
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 10/10/16, 04:08 pm
Hurricane Matthew left the southeast United States soggy and wind-torn over the weekend after devastating southwest Haiti earlier in the week with flooding and 145 mph winds.
In the United States, the death toll reached 23 today. As floodwaters receded and Haitians could begin to count the bodies, the death toll in the Caribbean country soared to 1,000. Officials began to bury the dead in mass graves in Jeremie, one of the hardest-hit cities.
“The whole southwest of the country is pretty much destroyed,” Marc Honorat, founder of the charity Haiti Arise, told me. “From towns to mountains, gardens to animals that [were] killed, the people are pretty much stripped away from everything. Everything is gone.”
One relief worker described southwest Haiti as 90 percent destroyed, according to BBC.
Still suffering from the effects of the 2010 earthquake that killed 220,000 people, Haitians also continue to battle cholera, apparently introduced by UN earthquake relief workers. Some worry the flood waters will compound the spread of the disease.
“Water always is an issue in Haiti,” relief coordinator Gary LeBlanc told me. “With the storm surge and such, what wells were there have been polluted.”
LeBlanc, founder of Mercy Chefs, a charity of volunteer professional chefs who serve food after disasters, said the organization has deployed a water purification unit to the southern coast and plans to send a bigger unit in several weeks.
With a big enough team, LeBlanc said Mercy Chefs could provide clean water for a village of 40,000 people.
Impoverished and fraught with political tension, Haiti recovers slowly from disasters. Seven years after the earthquake, Honorat said thousands are still living in tents. He said recovery from Hurricane Matthew will be even more difficult.
“To me, it’s a worse disaster even than the earthquake, except we might have less lost life,” he said. “But the devastation, … we have lots of houses destroyed, and there were no more gardens. They lost bananas, and that’s how the people would survive. We have no more mangos. All the mangos are pretty much gone, so we are now faced with starvation, we are facing cholera, and so on.”
The storm wiped out the banana-growing region of Arcahaie, and locals will need to combat saltwater washed into the soil.
Honorat predicts recovery will take upwards of a decade. His organization, which has been focusing on helping earthquake victims rebuild, is now working on food distribution to hurricane victims.
Outside relief groups are scrambling to help, but face their own difficulties since the storm demolished communication lines. The storm also knocked out La Digue Bridge, the only link to the ruined South from the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
The Red Cross is working to send communications equipment as well as food and water, and Samaritan’s Purse sent a DC-8 plane full of recovery supplies. The ministry plans more airlifts in the future. It sent a planeload of materials to the Bahamas, which also suffered hurricane damage.
Meanwhile, relief work is gearing up in the United States, where the storm flooded homes in the Carolinas, dumped sand across highways, and even carved a new inlet in Florida.
The storm slowed to a Category 3 as it passed along Florida, and dwindled to a Category 1 as it left the U.S. coast after slamming North Carolina with record rainfall.
Roughly a million homes lost power in Florida. As the storm crept north along the eastern coast, it knocked out power for hundreds of thousands in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
By Sunday, power for Florida’s major theme parks was back up and running, but North Carolina's flooding disaster continues to concern locals and officials.
Mike Ebert, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board (NAMB), said there are places in North Carolina the organization cannot assess because “they’re not even letting people back in yet.”
NAMB has disbursed 15 generator-powered mobile kitchens among five different states hit by Hurricane Matthew, and assessors are talking to homeowners to decide what further aid to send: mud-out units for flooded homes, chainsaw units for downed trees, or loads of sheeting for blown-off rooftops.
Ebert said one challenge lies in garnering volunteers.
“We draw a lot of our Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers and equipment from these states, so a lot of those volunteers, as you can imagine, are not able to respond because they are either impacted themselves, or maybe from where they are it’s difficult to get to some of the affected areas,” he said.
Another challenge is in realigning resources. Florida was expected to be the hardest hit, but escaped the worst of the storm. Now, workers must turn to the flood damage in the Carolinas.
Gov. Pat McCrory said Hurricane Matthew caused the worst flooding in the state since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
“A day and a half ago, we warned that this was going to be like Hurricane Floyd,” McCrory said. “I was afraid that we were exaggerating. Now I’m having people from eastern North Carolina tell us that we may have underestimated this.”
Samantha is a former WORLD correspondent.