Hundreds of people were killed and injured on Tuesday after an earthquake struck Haiti’s southern peninsula over the weekend, as Tropical Storm Grace survivors struggled to keep them safe in temporary shelters.
Haiti’s National Emergency Operations Center said the death toll had risen to at least 1,941 as of Tuesday evening, with 9,900 wounded, up from about 1,400 dead and 7,000 officially wounded 24 hours earlier.
The sharp increase, while not unexpected, pointed to a slow effort to recover the victims of Saturday’s 7.2 earthquake, which affected some 1.5 million people in an area about 80 miles west of the capital Port-au-Prince.
The rain brought on by the storm had largely stopped on Tuesday, and many people in the afflicted areas were searching for their loved ones, scavenging for supplies and trying to get aid from humanitarian groups whose efforts were on across the country. The whole was being disrupted by severe floods. Many people took shelter in some public buildings that survived the earthquake.
“In a situation like this, you feel like you are powerless,” said Abed Lozama, an Anglican archdeacon based in the south of the country, which was badly hit by the quake. “Many people are in need and you can’t do anything.”
Lozama said hundreds of people left homeless by the quake on Monday night went to a technical school in the city of Les Cayes to seek shelter from the rain and wind.
Videos circulating on social networks showed heavy rain lashing cities and villages throughout the night and the previous day, threatening flash floods and landslides.
In one video, a man can be seen walking through the muddy water that flooded a road up to his waist when the storm hit on Monday. Another video showed floodwaters running down a road and flooding nearby houses.
“It’s completely turned into a river,” a man can be heard saying in the video, which appears to have been shot in the town of Jacmel, on Haiti’s southern coast.
Heavy rains also pelted stones at people stranded in the fields, forcing many of them to leave their homes damaged in the 7.2-magnitude quake, and others who sought protection out of fear of the aftershocks that could lead to further tremors. can fall.
A video posted on Monday showed dozens of people trying to take shelter under plastic tarpaulins provided by the US Agency for International Development, which has sent aid to Haiti, as they were hit by gusts of wind who blew up their campsite. Earlier in the day, chaotic scenes took place near overcrowded shelters as dozens of people searched for a place to stay before the storm struck the country, according to images from French public news broadcaster France 24.
In a message posted to Twitter on Monday night, Haiti’s civil protection agency said heavy rainfall in the southern region was making the situation even more challenging for displaced people and called on residents whose homes were not affected to evacuate them. To help shelter.
The storm has complicated an already weak earthquake relief effort, disrupting an air bridge run by humanitarian groups and the US Coast Guard between affected areas of southern Haiti and the capital. The only road connecting southern Haiti to the capital’s Port-of-Prince has been attacked by armed gangs from time to time, despite some gang leaders offering a humanitarian ceasefire after the earthquake.
According to the National Hurricane Center, as of Tuesday morning, Grace, which struck Haiti as a tropical depression Monday night but was later upgraded to a tropical storm, had moved off the coasts of Haiti and hit Jamaica. was near.
After Saturday’s earthquake, the storm has exacerbated the problems facing an already poor nation, which was still in the grip of a political crisis prompted by the assassination of its president Jovenel Mosse last month.
An investigation into the murder of Mosse by assailants who stormed his residence near the capital Port-au-Prince has stalled. The newly established government is weak as the result of a delicate pact between politicians who jockeyed for power until the days following the assassination.
Relief efforts managed from Port-au-Prince Airport were largely coordinated by international aid groups and the US Coast Guard. There was no sign of Haitian authorities, underscoring the power void left in the country without a president or a functioning government.
As Grace entered Haiti, efforts were being made to bring aid to the southwest of the country, which had been devastated by a deadly earthquake two days earlier.
UNICEF estimated on Tuesday that about 1.2 million people, including 540,000 children, were affected by the quake.
According to reports from local authorities, dozens of schools, churches and health centers have been destroyed along with thousands of homes.
Memories of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake – and the shameful human response that followed – are still vivid in Haitians’ minds, and the government has promised a more effective response this time around. But aid shipping to the southwest has been hampered by logistics issues and a lack of medical facilities in that part of the country.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry said on Sunday that all aid to the country would be handled by a single operations center in Port-au-Prince, to avoid humanitarian aid coming “in disarray”, as it often did in 2010 , from which many people were excluded. rescue efforts.
In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, with NGOs becoming the main channel for humanitarian aid, the country earned the nickname “NGO Republic”, essentially filling the void left by vulnerable government institutions.
Several countries such as Mexico have provided aid to Haiti in recent times and the United States has sent a search and rescue team. On Tuesday, the European Union announced it was allocating 3 million euros, about $3.5 million, in humanitarian aid to help affected communities.
“The EU is gathering support for this already extremely fragile country, where storms and heavy rains have exacerbated the dire situation,” the bloc’s commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic, said in a statement.
Paul Farmer, a physician and co-founder of the relief agency Partners in Health, which oversees many of Haiti’s hospitals, said the country has established new emergency medical services in the intervening years, which have been largely affected by earthquakes. Improving answering ability.
“This time around,” he said, “the idea is: how can we coordinate the reaction so that it doesn’t become a burden to the Haitians?”