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Disaster Preparations in Haiti Underway as Tropical Storm Threatens Island

An approaching tropical depression in the Caribbean could bring Haiti some of the heaviest rains seen since the January 12th earthquake and be the biggest test to date of Red Cross efforts to help prepare camps for severe weather during hurricane season.

For months the American Red Cross has been working in camps across Port au Prince, the Haitian capital, to prepare the most vulnerable people – many of them living under tarps and tents because their homes have collapsed -- as well as possible.

In recent weeks, teams of Red Cross staff have fanned out across spontaneous settlements, directing local residents in cash-for-work programs. Armed with shovels and pitchforks, teams of Haitians are digging drainage ditches, sandbagging steep hillsides and laying gravel. The goal is to limit the damage from rain water that can come rushing down steep hills and through the camps during tropical downpours.

Meanwhile, a series of disaster preparedness programs are also underway in the camps. These involve training camp residents in emergency first aid, safe evacuation procedures, and early warning systems. The goal is to equip them with the knowledge and tools to survive the storms in the best condition possible.

Initially launched in nine camps, these risk-reduction and disaster-preparation programs will be expanded next week to another five camps and to 25 camps by month’s end. The goal is to reach 100 camps around Port au Prince by later this summer.

A third prong in the American Red Cross’ disaster preparedness strategy is to pre-position supplies, including tarps, tents and blankets, in warehouses in ten towns and cities across Haiti for 25,000 families. In the event that a hurricane hits, these supplies will be close to population centers and can be accessed as rapidly as possible.

While there is overwhelming need for assistance across the entire metropolitan area of Port au Prince, the American Red Cross and other aid organizations have tried to prioritize the most at-risk populations and coordinate their response efforts in the months since the earthquake struck on January 12th. More than 200,000 Haitians died and an estimated 1.5 million people were left homeless by the quake.