Haiti earthquake survivors, stranded by storm, search for shelter

A report by Ellen Francis and Amanda Coletta for The Washington Post.

Survivors of a powerful earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 1,900 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes scrambled for shelter, food and medical supplies on Wednesday as the aftermath of Tropical Storm Grace continued to snarl already feeble relief efforts, worsening a burgeoning humanitarian crisis and fueling anger.

Heavy rainfall on Tuesday battered temporary shelters set up since the weekend, drenching people stranded by Saturday’s 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Some slept out in the open. Flooding and mudslides cut off roads, blocking urgently needed aid deliveries and stalling efforts to search for the many people still missing or trapped in the rubble.

Hospitals and other health-care facilities in hard-hit areas were overwhelmed, struggling to secure sufficient medical supplies or staff members to treat those who were badly injured in the temblor. Other hospitals, USAID said, were so badly damaged that they were effectively rendered “nonfunctional,” and lacked adequate access to electricity and water.

In the commune of L’Asile, near the quake’s epicenter, roughly 90 percent of homes were affected by the quake and about half were reduced to rubble, said Christy Delafield, a spokeswoman for the global aid organization Mercy Corps, who visited the area, at times driving with her team through a foot of water.

Among the challenges, she said, is that the roads leading into the area cannot support large trucks, meaning several smaller vehicles would be needed to transport supplies, and that buildings such as churches and schools that might have served as shelters were also damaged.

“There was one school that we visited that was only partially destroyed where there were about 200 people sheltering there overnight,” Delafield said, “and they said that more people are arriving each night.”

Officials raised the death toll on Tuesday to 1,941, though that figure was expected to rise.

UNICEF has estimated that the powerful earthquake affected about 1.2 million people, including 540,000 children, and damaged or leveled some 84,000 homes. Among those searching for survivors was a 10-year-old boy who pulled three of his aunts from the rubble, it said.

Bruno Maes, UNICEF’s representative in Haiti, said in a tweet that 20 schools in one of the country’s administrative regions were reduced to rubble, while 74 others were partially destroyed. He shared photos of school desks covered in debris and gaping holes in classroom walls mere weeks before the start of the school year.

“Countless Haitian families who have lost everything due to the earthquake are now living literally with their feet in the water due to the flooding,” he wrote in another tweet, sharing a video of a flooded street.

UNICEF estimated that $15 million is needed to respond to the most urgent needs.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said Tuesday that the United Nations set aside $8 million in emergency funds for health care, water and shelter in the country, calling for countries to step up foreign aid to prevent a “humanitarian disaster.”

Saturday’s earthquake compounded woes in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, already struggling with a coronavirus outbreak and a scarce vaccine supply, gang violence that aid agencies have warned threatens to imperil relief effortsand political turmoil after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last month. The Caribbean nation is still recovering from a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 near the capital of Port-au-Prince that killed some 200,000 people.

“It’s just one thing after another,” Delafield said. “Talk about the number of shocks and stresses that Haiti has been though … It’s devastating and incredibly hard.”

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