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Hurricane response in Haiti slowed by blocked roads, floods, power outages

Haitian first responders and nongovernmental aid workers were assessing the damage from Hurricane Matthew even as they scrambled to deliver food, water and shelter materials to communities isolated by washed-out bridges and blocked roads.

The storm left southwestern Haiti in shambles after slamming into the country’s Caribbean coast on 4th October. The cities of Les Cayes, on the southwest coast, and Jeremie, in the northwest, were said to be particularly hit hard by the strongest storm to strike the Caribbean region in a decade.

Water stood shoulder-deep in some communities. Electrical service, the internet and cell phone service disruptions were widespread. Makeshift wooden homes were splintered, and even concrete block houses were wrecked by the storm.

A bridge on the main road to the peninsula had been washed away, effectively isolating people living in the region southwest of Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Eleven deaths, including five in Haiti, were blamed on the storm in the region. The number of casualties was expected to climb because Jeremie was said to have sustained heavy damage, and little information had been received from the area, said Mary Durran, Haiti program director for Development and Peace, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ aid and development agency.

“Nobody knows right now what went on in Jeremie. They suspect it’s bad,” Durran told Catholic News Service.

She said numerous nurseries that were preparing to harvest vegetables were destroyed by the storm and that Haitians were facing serious food shortages. Reports from one co-op, known as Determined Women, indicated that its crops were wiped out by winds and flooding, Durran said.

“It’s very difficult to get information at the moment because communities are very poor. Mobile phone towers are down and, even when mobile phone towers are working, there is no electricity, and people can’t charge their phones,” she said.

Chris Bessey, Haiti country director for Catholic Relief Services, told CNS that the agency’s staff had begun to distribute food, water and hygiene kits from its base in Les Cayes to people who lost their homes to the storm. He said assessments of the extent of damage continued the day after the storm.

Roads remained blocked by floodwaters, downed trees and mudslides, he said, making transportation in the city and outlying communities difficult.

The storm also affected CRS operations when winds tore off part of the roof of the agency’s offices and a warehouse in Les Cayes. After that, CRS staffers relocated to higher ground because of the threat of rising waters and were attempting to deliver emergency supplies, Bessey said.

“And we believe that part of the warehouse roof was also damaged. We’re hoping that that isn’t the case, because that is where we have some of the nonfood items,” Bessey said.

Picture: A man pushes a bicycle in floodwaters on 4th October in Les Cayes, Haiti, as Hurricane Matthew sweeps through the island nation. The hurricane churned toward the Bahamas and Florida on 5th October with a mix of high winds, heavy rains and a dangerous storm surge, leaving widespread damage and human suffering behind in Haiti’s rural southwestern peninsula. (CNS photo/Andres Martinez Casares, Reuters).