Hurricane Matthew’s Devastating Toll in Haiti

haiti

With her usual eloquence, Edwidge Danticat (The New Yorker, 6 October 2016) writes about Hurricane Matthew’s devastating toll in Haiti and, even more important, the disturbing menace of the hurricane’s aftermath. Here are excerpts. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

It is hard to describe to people who have never experienced a major hurricane what it’s like to go through one. The pounding torrential rains. The roaring gale-force winds, which can uproot and toss massive trees as though they were twigs. The relentlessness of it all as it carries on for hours, slowly increasing your doubts about your creaking house’s ability to remain standing. It is as if the air you are accustomed to breathing has suddenly gathered supernatural force and become angry, and decided to try to kill you.

Of course, the less stable your house, the more terror you feel. I remember my parents describing their fright as they trembled inside their respective homes—my mother’s a wooden tin-covered house, my father’s a concrete one—while Hurricane Flora, a Category 4 storm, roared through Haiti, on October 2, 1963. Ask any Haitian who was there and is old enough to remember and you might still be able to detect a remnant of alarm. Flora, which also struck Cuba and the Bahamas, was responsible for thousands of deaths in Haiti. [. . .]

Haiti has just found itself in the crosshairs of yet another powerful storm, Hurricane Matthew. A Category 4 storm with hundred-and-forty-five-mile-per-hour winds, Matthew made landfall in the southwest region of the country this week, decimating large portions and creating a humanitarian catastrophe. Though it is still too early to gauge the full magnitude of the damage, the first flights over the most affected areas show seaside and even inland villages with flooded farmlands and roads, and nearly annihilated towns with the majority of their houses either roofless or flattened, as well as rivers still raging, damaged or impassable bridges, and little or no remaining functioning infrastructure. The storm has also divided the country in half, after a crucial bridge connecting the southern region to the rest of the country collapsed. When last I checked, there had been a hundred and eight deaths cited by Haitian authorities, though there will likely be more reported once the cutoff regions become accessible. Cell phones, the most common method of long-distance communication available to most people, have been down since the hurricane struck, making it impossible to get in touch with friends and family in the south, just as it was difficult to reach family members after the devastating earthquake of 2010. Thoughts of the earthquake bring to mind the dilemma facing most poor Haitians who live in both earthquake- and hurricane-prone areas and cannot afford to build seismically sound houses: concrete might protect folks from hurricanes, but it can become deadly during an earthquake.

This story, I know, is being repeated all over Haiti, and it’s a story that many of us living abroad have already heard or will be hearing soon. Yet some even greater dangers lie ahead. Hurricane Matthew, as it has travelled over Haiti, has destroyed crops and harvests of Haitian staples, which could lead to food insecurity, hunger, and even famine as the waters recede. Also looming is the increased menace of mosquito- and waterborne illnesses, most prominently cholera, which has become an epidemic in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake, an outbreak that United Nations peacekeepers have acknowledged their role in introducing.

Some of us who live in South Florida, which has one the largest populations of Haitians in the United States, now also find ourselves in Matthew’s path. [. . .] We will continue thinking about and trying to reach our friends and loved ones in Haiti, and eventually will find ways to help and support them, even as we, under somewhat more favorable conditions, do our best to shelter ourselves.

For full article, see http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/facing-hurricane-matthew

 

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