Haiti quake toll leaps to nearly 2,000 dead as rain pelts survivors
By Anatoly Kurmanaev and Constant Méheut
The death and injury tolls leapt by many hundreds Tuesday from the weekend earthquake in Haiti’s southern peninsula, as survivors soaked from Tropical Storm Grace struggled to keep safe in makeshift shelters.
Haiti’s National Emergency Operations Center said that as of Tuesday evening the number of dead totaled at least 1,941, with 9,900 injured, compared with the official tallies of about 1,400 dead and 7,000 injured reported 24 hours earlier.
The sharp increases, while not unexpected, pointed to the slow effort to recover victims of the 7.2 quake Saturday, which affected roughly 1.5 million people in an area about 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital.
The rain brought by the storm had largely stopped Tuesday, and many people in afflicted areas were out looking for loved ones, scavenging for supplies and trying to get aid from humanitarian groups, whose efforts were being hampered by severe flooding across the country. Many had sought refuge in the few public buildings spared by the quake.
“In a situation like this, you feel you’re powerless,” said Abiade Lozama, an Anglican archdeacon based in the south of the country, which was hard hit by the quake. “Many people are in need and there’s nothing you can do.”
Lozama said hundreds of people made homeless by the earthquake Monday night streamed into a technical school he runs in the town of Les Cayes, seeking shelter from rain and wind.
Videos circulating on social networks showed heavy rains overnight and the previous day pummeling towns and villages, bringing the risk of flash floods and landslides.
In one video, a man could be seen making his way through muddy water that had flooded a street up to his waist Monday, when the storm struck. Another video showed floodwaters rushing across a street and inundating nearby homes.
“It’s totally turned into a river,” a man is heard saying in the video, which appeared to have been shot in the city of Jacmel, on Haiti’s southern coast.
Heavy rains also pelted people who had huddled in fields, many of them forced to leave homes damaged in the 7.2-magnitude earthquake, and others who had sought safety outdoors because of a fear of aftershocks that could cause further collapses.
One video posted Monday showed dozens of people trying to take shelter under plastic tarpaulins provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has sent help to Haiti, as they were hit by gusts of wind that had blown down their campsite. Earlier in the day, chaotic scenes occurred near overcrowded shelters as dozens of people jostled to find a place to stay before the storm hit the country, according to images from the French public news broadcaster France 24.
In a message posted on Twitter on Monday night, the civil protection agency of Haiti said that heavy rainfall in the southern region was making the situation for displaced people even more challenging and called on residents whose homes had not been affected to help shelter them.
The storm has complicated an already tenuous earthquake relief effort, disrupting an air bridge run by humanitarian groups and the U.S. Coast Guard between affected areas of southern Haiti and the capital. The only road linking southern Haiti to Port-of-Prince, the capital, has come under periodic attack from armed gangs, despite a humanitarian truce offered by some gang leaders following the earthquake.
As of Tuesday morning, Grace, which hit Haiti as a tropical depression Monday night but was later upgraded to a tropical storm, had moved away from Haiti’s shores and was nearing Jamaica, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Coming after the earthquake Saturday, the tempest has compounded the problems already facing the impoverished nation, which was still in the throes of a political crisis prompted by the assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, last month.
Investigations into the killing of Moïse — by assailants who stormed his residence near the capital, Port-au-Prince — have stalled. The newly installed government is vulnerable, the result of a fragile compromise between politicians who jockeyed for power for days after the killing.
The relief effort managed from the Port-au-Prince airport was largely coordinated by international aid groups and the U.S. Coast Guard. There was no sign of the Haitian authorities, underscoring the power vacuum left in a country without a president or a functioning government.
As Grace made landfall in Haiti, efforts were being made to bring aid to the country’s southwest, which was devastated in the deadly earthquake just two days earlier.
UNICEF estimated Tuesday that about 1.2 million people, including 540,000 children, had been affected by the earthquake.
Thousands of homes have been destroyed, as well as dozens of schools, churches and health centers, according to reports by local authorities.
Memories of the crippling 2010 earthquake — and the shambolic humanitarian response that followed — are still vivid in the minds of Haitians, and the government has promised a more effective reaction this time. But the shipping of aid to the southwest has been hampered by logistical issues and medical facilities are lacking in that part of the country.
Several countries, like Mexico, have flown aid to Haiti in recent days and the United States has sent a search-and-rescue team. On Tuesday, the European Union announced that it was allocating 3 million euros, about $3.5 million, in humanitarian funding to help affected communities.
“The EU is quickly mobilizing support to this already extremely fragile country, where hurricanes and heavy rainfalls aggravate the dire situation even more,” Janez Lenarcic, the bloc’s commissioner for crisis management, said in a statement.