It bullied rivers over their banks, invaded roads, paralyzed cities and collapsed many houses, sending thousands of people seeking shelter, but it was not done. The weeklong rain caused landslides and massive floods; still, it swamped vulnerable camps, trapped many people and, as of Tuesday, tallied 23 bodies for Haitian families to collect while six remained missing.
From the Dominican Republic to Jamaica, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, a low-pressure system terrorized the Caribbean region mercilessly and this, in spite of tireless efforts of emergency crews to evacuate the vulnerable ahead of the storm. According to Francisco Arias, a regional civil defense official, authorities evacuated more than 4,000 people north of the Dominican capital, but the storm system still destroyed a dozen homes, forcing the Licey River out of its bank, taking at least one life.
Across the border, in Haiti, the violent storm hammered Port-au-Prince and the southwestern coast, leaving 23 people lifeless on its trail; numbers officials from the Civil Protection department expect to keep climbing. “We are sure there are more bodies,” said Petionville Mayor Claire Lydie Parent to the Associated Press. A concrete house on the hillside neighborhood just north of Port-au-Prince rushed down a ravine and crashed into smaller houses on its path, leaving neighbors and rescue crews digging through the debris, searching for survivors. “We’re waiting to see just how many bodies there are,” added the mayor.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that aids groups warned cholera could seize the opportunity to tighten its grip on Haitians who have yet to build immunity to it. Since October, cholera claimed more than 5,300 lives, resurging in recent weeks after it plateaued about two months ago. Doctors Without Borders reportedly treated 2,000 people stricken by cholera last week as experts expect more rain for Haiti on Wednesday and Thursday.
“That’s a fairly intense rainfall amount,” said Michael Davison, coordinator of the International Desk of the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Barely a week into what experts said would be a very active hurricane season, Haitians did not expect the deadly storm that, according to Davison, pounded Haiti along the Dominican border for at least six hours Monday night, dumping between four to six inches. “That’s been happening now for five, seven days,” Davison said. “The ground is so saturated at this point that it doesn’t take much to produce floods,” he added. Meteorologists predicted more rainfall for Haiti on Wednesday.
“This message is to tell the population that I’m with you,” said President Michel Martelly on national television just before midnight, an attempt to appease the anxious population as the storm persisted on Monday night.
As the National Hurricane Center warned of flash floods and mudslides for Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba, officials from the DR and Jamaica also issued flood alerts. Jamaican police reported one fisherman drowning while rescuers pulled another out of rough water, off Bob Marley Beach in St. Andrew parish. Ronald Jackson, director general at the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, told the AP that emergency teams in southeastern and eastern Jamaica tried to rescue at least 50 people trapped by rising floodwaters. High waters blocked roads in at least four parishes elsewhere in the country.
However, several news reports confirmed the storm system pounded Haiti the most, especially the capital where hundreds of thousands displaced people still leave in squalid camps since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. The wall of a home fell on five people, killing two children and injuring the other three in Nazon near the Toussaint Louverture Airport, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of Haiti’s Civil Protection Department.
Meanwhile, Injured people rushed to nearby hospitals, seeking treatment. Project Pedishare, a Miami aid group, treated at least 10 people for injuries, including a puncture wound, said Gabriele Denis, a hospital administrator. Aid group Doctors Without Borders also treated at least 10 people, many of them injured when walls fell on them, said Sylvain Groulx, chief of mission for Doctors Without Borders to the Washington Post. Other cities seriously battered by the deadly storm included: southwestern city of Le Cayes and Cite Soleil.
“I’m now trying to help people and distribute some food,” said President Martelly who ordered government construction workers to get to work early on Tuesday to help remove debris. “I hope people can find shelter,” he added. He visited many areas of the capital, including the hard-hit areas of Cite Soleil to assess damages and sympathize with the victims.