After what may have been the heaviest rain of the season, the Red Cross earthquake operation in Haiti sent assessment teams out into Port-au-Prince after camps were deluged for several hours on Monday evening.
But the first to respond was the Haitian Red Cross Society ambulance service, which went out overnight to do an immediate emergency assessment.
In the morning all Red Cross teams leaving base camp for their regular duties were tasked to complete on-the-spot evaluations of damage in their pre-planned locations.
They reported no casualties or major impacts. But the Red Cross’ own base camp near the airport came close to being inundated after the main drainage gulley overflowed and the mess-tent terrace turned into a small lake.
The assessments, which included many major camps considered especially vulnerable to floods and mudslides, coincided with a delivery of 1,200 American Red Cross tarpaulins to the Terrain Golf camp, for use there and at the new Corail Cesselesse resettlement site just outside the capital.
Red Cross volunteers also pitched some of the tents at Corail.
Terrain Golf – the Petionville sports club that turned into a refugee camp almost overnight after the January 12 quake – is managed by the J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO), set up by the actor Sean Penn.
“We were hit pretty hard by the rains,” Penn told the Red Cross. “Now we’re starting to see it rain during the day, and that’s a change.”
The Haitian rainy season is approaching its average mid-May peak, with now almost daily thunderstorms and downpours. The ground is gradually becoming saturated.
More than 7,000 quake-affected people who had set up shelters in particularly dangerous parts of the almost entirely hilly Petionville golf club have now been evacuated to the new-tented encampment at Corail, managed by the International Organization for Migration.
After disaster-mitigation work by the US military and J/P HRO – mainly new drainage gulleys – Terrain Golf is “essentially flood and mudslide-resistant all the way around, as long as can we maintain the mitigation we’ve done,” Penn added.
The Red Cross assessment at Corail itself was led by the head of earthquake operations, Iain Logan, who said the system of deep new drainage canals there had worked well.
“In almost any one of the camps the insecurity could be cut by about half by just doing two peripheral drains like the ones here,” said Logan. “In other words, drains that would carry water off to the outside of the camp.
“To do that you obviously need equipment. You need some basic engineering so you judge the topography right. And they’ve done it here.
“The rains last night were really, really heavy, and although there were warnings of major flooding, the camp survived well.”
The opening up of the Corail site has undoubtedly saved many lives, but the camp is no paradise: it will be a while yet before it can offer the facilities of the small town it’s already large enough to constitute.
Fernande Charles, 30, recently moved into Block 3 at Corail with her two young children and now shares tent 8 with four other people. “The tent roof leaks and the rocks are starting to puncture the groundsheet,” she says.
“A new Haiti”
Sean Penn, who has been critical of international agencies involved in quake relief in Haiti, said the Haitian disaster was “beyond any one organization or any one government”.
He said it was “essential” for relatively small organizations like his to be able to call on larger agencies like the Red Cross for extra resources.
“We’re all in this together,” said Penn, “so when you have big organizations facing a huge problem, for them to be able to delegate to other organizations that are smaller and pinpointing certain of the immediate issues, I think that’s a natural process and I think it works very well.”
Penn, who is living with his colleagues at the J/P HRO base in Terrain Golf, stressed he believes there is hope for Haiti: “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that,” he said.
In Sean Penn’s view, one day, the world could see “a new Haiti” arise.