Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Tolls rises as Haiti digs out from Hurricane Matthew

Published:Saturday | October 8, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Saintanor Dutervil stands with his wife in the ruins of their home - with hardly more than the doorway left behind - destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, last Thursday.

JEREMIE, Haiti (AP):

As the death toll continues to rise in Haiti following the passage of dangerous Hurricane Matthew, some news agencies are reporting that more than 800 people have died and tens of thousands have been left homeless.

The number of deaths in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, is said to have surged past 840 as officials get information from remote areas previously cut off by the storm.

Saint-Victor Jeune, an official with the civil protection agency working in Beaumont, in the mountains on the outskirts of hard-hit Jeremie, said 82 bodies found by his team had not been recorded by authorities in the capital because of spotty communications. Most appeared to have died from falling debris from the winds that tore through the area at 145 mph (235 kph) on Tuesday.

"We don't have any contact with Port-au-Prince yet and there are places we still haven't reached," Jeune said as he and a team of civil protection agents in orange vests combed through the area.

Villages submerged

The storm left signs of devastation all around the southwestern peninsula. Outside the coastal town of Jeremie, home after home was in ruins. Drew Garrison, a Haiti-based missionary who flew in yesterday, said several fishing villages along the coast were submerged and he could see bodies floating in the water.

"Anything that wasn't concrete was flattened," said Garrison, whose organisation, Mission of Hope Haiti, based in Austin, Texas, was bringing in a barge loaded with emergency supplies today. There were several little fishing villages that just looked desolate, no life."

Solette Phelicin, a mother of five who lost her home and her small fruit and vegetable plot, watched from her yard as United Nations (UN) peacekeepers patrolled the small airstrip. She said that they were hungry and desperately in need of food. "Jeremie might get rebuilt after I'm dead, maybe, but I doubt it."

As Haitians mourned their losses, they tried to recover what they could of their belongings. Homes throughout the area were piles of rubble, the roofs mangled or stripped away.

Devastation everywhere

Workers from the International Organization of Migration and other groups were going through the area to assess the damage and provide assistance, though their efforts were hampered by damaged roads, rough terrain and other factors.

"Devastation is everywhere," said Pilus Enor, mayor of Camp Perrin, a town near the port city of Les Cayes on the peninsula's south shore. "Every house has lost its roof."

Officials were especially concerned about the department of Grand-Anse on the northern tip of the peninsula, where they believe the death toll and damage is highest.

Emmanuel Pierre, an Interior Ministry coordinator in Les Cayes, told The Associated Press late on Thursday that authorities had counted 283 people dead in one part of Haiti's hard-hit southwest, but that did not include Grand-Anse or its surrounding areas.

Death tolls are frequently difficult to tabulate in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster in any country, though it is particularly difficult in remote and mountainous southwest Haiti.

When Category 4 Hurricane Flora hit Haiti in 1963, it killed as many as 8,000 people.

More bodies began to appear on Thursday as waters receded in some places two days after Matthew's 145 mph (235 kph) winds smashed concrete walls, flattened palm trees and tore roofs off homes, forcing thousands of Haitians to flee.

Those killed in Haiti included a woman and her six-year-old daughter who frantically abandoned their flimsy home and headed to a nearby church to seek shelter as Matthew surged in early on Tuesday, said Ernst Ais, mayor of the town of Cavaillon.

"On the way to the church, the wind took them," Ais said.

Officials said that food and water were urgently needed, noting that crops had been leveled, wells inundated by seawater and some water treatment facilities destroyed.

Officials with the Pan American Health Organisation warned about a possible surge in cholera cases because of the widespread flooding caused by Matthew. Haiti's cholera outbreak has killed roughly 10,000 people and sickened more than 800,000 since 2010, when it was introduced into the country's biggest river from a UN base where Nepalese peacekeepers were deployed.

Haiti's government has estimated that at least 350,000 people need some kind of assistance in what is likely to be the country's worst humanitarian crisis since the devastating earthquake of January 2010.

International aid groups are already appealing for donations for a lengthy recovery effort in Haiti, the hemisphere's least-developed and most aid-dependent nation.