Storm shreds aging tents in Haiti earthquake camps

The sudden, powerful storm that ripped through Haiti’s battered capital destroyed thousands of tents in the homeless camps where more than 1.3 million people live eight months after the earthquake destroyed their homes, shelter officials said Saturday, according to an Associated Press report.

The death toll from Friday afternoon’s storm stood at five people, including two children, and hundreds of people were reported with varying degrees of injury, Civil Protection chief Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste told The Associated Press.

Preliminary U.N. estimates had more than 2,000 tents damaged or destroyed; international shelter officials said that number could rise beyond 5,000 when assessments are complete.

The storm’s effect was exacerbated by the flimsiness of tarps and tents that have been baking, soaking and flapping in the Caribbean elements since the Jan. 12 earthquake killed at least 230,000 people and left millions homeless. Hundreds of thousands of families continue living on the streets of the capital waiting for temporary housing or money to find new apartments.

“Many of the tents that were destroyed had reached their end of lifespan,” said Gerhard Tauscher, shelter cluster coordinator for the International Federation of the Red Cross.

Reconstruction has barely begun despite billions of dollars pledged for Haiti in the wake of the disaster. Less than 15 percent of money promised at the U.N. donor’s conference in March has been delivered. The United States, which spent more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid after the quake, has not delivered any of its promised long-term funds.

Wood and metal temporary shelters fared much better in the storm, suffering minimal damage. But few of the earthquake homeless have those.

Instead they continue living in tarps and tents, sometimes reinforced with metal or wood. As many as 10 percent of such shelters were destroyed in some areas of the capital by the sudden squall, with damage concentrated in central urban areas, Tauscher said.

Camp-management facilities including office tents, clinics and childcare spaces were shredded, especially in camps perched on the steep hillsides between downtown Port-au-Prince and the suburb of Petionville.

“(Our) infrastructure has been ripped up: the house, the office, child-friendly spaces. The clinic held up pretty well and there wasn’t any one person hurt. But trees fell and the place looks an absolute mess,” said Emmett Fitzgerald of the American Refugee Council, who manages the 26,000-person camp at Terrain Acra.

There was less damage to the north of the city at the Corail-Cesselesse camp, where residents used tools to drain water away from tents and shore up sagging homes with help from international aid and security teams, manager Bryant Castro said.

The storm was not part of any tropical system but rather a standard early-fall Caribbean storm caused by cold and dry conditions in the upper atmosphere, U.S. National Hurricane Center senior specialist Stacy Stewart told AP.

Windspeed and rainfall data were not immediately available. Based on the reports of uprooted trees and damaged tents, Stewart estimated winds might have reached 60 mph (100 kph) — a violent storm, but far below hurricane strength.

Haiti has not suffered a direct hit from a hurricane or tropical storm this year, but months of hurricane season remain. Forecasters are watching the remnants of Tropical Storm Matthew off the coast of Central America, which could transform into a “monsoon low” and threaten the Western Caribbean next week.

The impoverished nation was extremely vulnerable to damage from passing storms even before the quake. Port-au-Prince’s Cite Soleil slum was flooded by rains in 2007. In 2008, four named storms struck in the space of a month, killing nearly 800 people and plunging the coastal city of Gonaives under water for weeks.

For the original report and additional photos by Ramón Espinosa go to

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