With a tropical storm bearing down on the Caribbean Wednesday, the American Red Cross and Red Cross societies across the region were busy preparing for heavy rains and strong winds.
As of Wednesday morning, tropical storm warnings were in effect for Puerto Rico, Viequez, Culebra, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Southeast Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands. A tropical storm warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area within 36 hours. A warning for the US Virgin Islands was discontinued.
In Haiti, where hundreds of thousands of people are still living under tarps and tents more than 18 months after last year’s earthquake, the Haitian authorities put the country on alert, citing the threat of persistent and heavy rains, strong winds, flooding and mudslides. The government said the risk is greatest in the departments of the South, Southeast, Grand Anse, Nippes, the West (including greater Port-au-Prince), the Center, Artibonite and North.
The Red Cross network has emergency response teams on standby in Haiti as the storm approaches. A Red Cross disaster operations center has been established in Hinche to help leaders coordinate a national emergency response. Stocks of emergency relief items also have been pre-positioned at sites around the country in order to be readily available.
In cooperation with local ‘vigilance committees' that help mobilize camp populations, the American Red Cross is implementing programs such as early warning systems that will help people be prepared for disasters and, if possible, move out of harm's way. The color-coded system of flags is supplemented with bullhorns and whistles to alert residents to potential risks. Children have learned about the warning systems and other preparedness measures through songs, skits and games taught in a series of workshops in the camps.
Other aspects of the American Red Cross disaster risk reduction program include emergency first aid courses, clearing and marking safe evacuation routes, digging drainage ditches, sandbagging precarious hillsides, and distributing waterproof bags to protect important documents. More than 40 camps in and around Port-au-Prince have received disaster preparedness training from the American Red Cross, whose programs in this area are being emulated by partners in the Red Cross network and other aid groups working in Haiti.
“Our teams have been out there every day, making sure disaster preparedness is not forgotten,” said Matt Marek, head of programs for the American Red Cross delegation in Haiti. “Our focus first is on preparedness and, once the storm hits, we’ll be ready to respond. The Red Cross has emergency response teams on standby and we’ve pre-positioned supplies around the country.”
The global Red Cross network has also increased the distribution of text messages with information about disaster preparedness.
The emphasis on awareness and preparedness has long been an important part of Red Cross disaster risk reduction programs, and these programs are due to be expanded to dozens more camps in Haiti the months ahead.
The American Red Cross is also coordinating with our Red Cross partners, United Nations agencies, Haiti's government and other humanitarian organizations – a network that is helping residents to better prepare for severe weather and that would collectively respond to meet any resulting needs following a major storm in Haiti.
In the neighboring Dominican Republic, the Red Cross has a fully activated crisis management room and radio room. It has also activated national emergency response teams that will be deployed as needed. A community in Monte Plata province has been evacuated as a precautionary measure, and the Red Cross is providing shelter and basic health care to the evacuated people.
Thanks to the generosity of its donors, the American Red Cross was able to help Haitians receive emergency relief and is now providing longer-term support and training to help them recover and rebuild. In coming years the American Red Cross will continue to invest in Haiti relief and recovery programs and projects until every donated dollar is spent. More information about the Haiti response can be found at www.redcross.org/Haiti.