A revitalized Tropical Storm Grace rolled across Haiti on Tuesday, pounding the region with drenching rains just days after a powerful earthquake devastated a swath of the island nation’s so-called southwestern “claw.”
Up to 15 inches of rain were possible in some areas before the storm moves out Wednesday, forecasters said. The storm hit as thousands of Haitians dug through rubble looking for loved ones or hunted for shelter after Saturday’s quake crumbled entire towns and left hospitals overwhelmed with the injured.
Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency raised the death toll to 1,419 – and it was expected to increase again. More than 6,000 people were injured, many left exposed on an airport tarmac awaiting space in hospitals or medical flights to the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Bruno Maes, UNICEF’s representative in Haiti, said security issues were complicating the humanitarian response. The main road from Port-au-Prince to the hard-hit southwestern region is controlled by gangs, he said.
But Maes said UNICEF was able reach affected areas with medical supplies, delivering medical kits to three hospitals in Les Cayes – including gloves, painkillers, antibiotics and syringes to treat 30,000 earthquake victims for three months.
“I saw strong winds and heavy rainfall strike the same areas already affected by the earthquake,” Maes said. “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.”
Many survivors were growing frustrated with the lack of government response. A crowd of angry, shouting men gathered in front of one collapsed building. The head of Haiti’s office of civil protection, Jerry Chandler, acknowledged that damage assessments had to be paused because of the heavy rain “and people are getting aggressive.”
John Morrison, public information officer for Virginia-based Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue, said its team was still trying to find survivors. Two U.S. Coast Guard helicopters ferried searchers to six stricken communities Monday.
“The team reports that food, health care services, safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation, and shelter are all priority needs,” Morrison said. He also noted, “we have not yet found any signs of persons alive trapped in buildings.”
Disaster draws comparison to Haiti’s 2010 earthquake
The challenges faced by rescue and medical response teams are probably even greater than those presented by a 2010 earthquake the rocked the region closer to Port-au-Prince, even though that disaster was more destructive, says retired U.S. Lt. Gen. Ken Keen.
Keen, an associate dean at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, was commander of the joint task force response in Haiti after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010. Keen worked with Haitian leaders to provide emergency medical care for more than 100,000 Haitians. He oversaw the more than 22,000 personnel, 19 ships and 57 aircrafts assisting in the disaster.
“It was a little surreal when I heard there was another earthquake,” Keen told USA TODAY. “But I remember experts saying back then that it would happen again, that it was on a fault line.”
The death toll from the 2010 quake has been estimated at between 100,000 and 300,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed.
“In many ways, this is more complicated and difficult than 2010, although the death toll will be less,” Keen told USA TODAY. “This is not (a disaster) they have the resources to handle without tremendous assistance from international community.”
Haiti’s death toll from earthquake soars to 1,400as Tropical Depression Grace dumps torrential rains
The 2010 quake was centered much closer to the capital than Saturday’s temblor. Keen says it’s a four-hour drive to Les Cayes on a good day, and the damaged roads will make the trip even longer.
“It’s a tough way to get into the region. Not to mention the security issues and the weather they have been having,” he said. “You really have to get in by air and ships.”
The cloudy, stormy conditions also limit the ability of U.S. military aircraft and satellites to direct teams on the ground to areas where major structures have collapsed, he said.
Keen said it’s not clear how long the recovery from this disaster will take.
“Some say they still haven’t recovered from 2010,” Keen said. “But in terms of classic disaster response relief efforts, it was six to eight weeks until search and rescue had fully transitioned to recovery and rebuilding.”
Keen said the quake of 2010 essentially decapitated the government. But the Haitians he worked with were capable and professional, some working around the clock to repair their country, he said. The current civil response force is “not very robust,” he added.
“The Haitian people are extremely resilient,” he said. “It’s heart-wrenching to see them go through this again.”
Contributing: The Associated Press