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Red Cross Responds as Storm Hits Haiti


When a sudden storm hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on the afternoon of September 24, Red Cross teams sprang into action to assist thousands of families affected by the heavy rain and strong winds.

With at least six people confirmed dead, dozens injured, and thousands of emergency shelters blown away, the storm was the most severe weather to hit Haiti so far this rainy season. Because the storm came without any advance warning, no emergency bulletins were issued to Haitians living in makeshift camps who are still struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake of January 12th that left more than 1.5 million people homeless.

“Because the storm had heavy wind and was sudden, people were not able to react in time to tie down their tents or secure their emergency shelters,” said Steve McAndrew, head of operations for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) earthquake response.

Having planned for months for just such an event, the Red Cross mobilized on several fronts. The Haitian Red Cross and International Federation of the Red Cross immediately dispatched ambulances with paramedics to tend to the wounded and ferry people to local hospitals.

In addition, a series of emergency response teams (ERTs) – specially trained staff and volunteers from the Haitian Red Cross and international Red Cross societies -- went on alert the evening of September 24th, and deployed across the city early the next morning. The ERTs’ assessments of conditions in hard-hit camps in and around the hilly capital city provided guidance on the extent of damage and needs, which were then shared with the Red Cross network, the wider humanitarian community and the Haitian government.

In response, emergency relief items – tarps, tents, shelter kits (tools and materials to repair shelter), blankets and sleeping mats – that had been pre-positioned by the Red Cross network were sent as quickly as possible to the affected areas.

As of Sunday evening, 162 spontaneous settlements – known locally as “camps” – with about 11,000 families were identified as having humanitarian needs, specifically that of shelter assistance. That number is expected to rise as further assessments occur.

“(The storm) came from nowhere,” said Widler Fils-Aime, a community leader in one of the affected camps. “People were very scared and I tried to make sure that the children were ok. A lot of people lost their tents.”

By late Sunday about one-third of the needy families identified – about 3,200 – had received shelter support from humanitarian organizations, including the Red Cross network. The Red Cross was also providing blankets and shelter kits (tools and materials such as rope) to help affected residents.

Camp residents also received a series of text messages from the IFRC with information on how to stay safe in the post-storm conditions. This is the latest phase of a Red Cross text-messaging campaign that has rolled out in recent weeks, sending hundreds of thousands of messages on how to be prepared to vulnerable Haitians via their cell phones.

“Friday’s storm was one of the most severe so far of the hurricane season,” said McAndrew. “But we know that storms can be much worse here, so we need to learn the lessons of the response and get ourselves ready for new events.”

The American Red Cross has been conducting a series of disaster preparedness and risk-reduction activities at camps across the metropolitan area for several months. Reaching more than 50,000 people, its activities have included training in emergency first aid and early-warning systems, hiring cash-for-work teams to dig drainage ditches and sandbagging hillsides, as well as providing information to households about how to be as safe as possible in severe weather.