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Red Cross Responds to Hurricane Tomas in Haiti

The American Red Cross has mobilized teams across Haiti this weekend in the wake of Hurricane Tomas.

While Haiti has been spared the worst feared impacts of the storm – Tomas was upgraded to hurricane status shortly before hitting the country on Friday – it has brought heavy rains and severe flooding to parts of the country. While the threat appears to be receding, it has not entirely passed and the Red Cross continues to advise caution.

Assessment teams from the American Red Cross and our partners in the Red Cross network were out in Port-au-Prince and other parts of the country as weather permitted on Friday and Saturday, surveying the extent of damage and relief needs.

Early reports show flooding in parts of Port-au-Prince, where some camps of earthquake survivors were evacuated. Needs have been identified among some displaced people for water, replacement tarps, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, and hygiene kits, and we will be working to meet those needs along with aid partners. The good news is that in most camps assessed by mid-day Saturday, there were few reported casualties and most tarps and tents survived the storm.

Elsewhere in the country, major rivers are swollen and thousands of homes have flooded. There is heavy flooding in Leogane – another city badly affected by the January earthquake – and in and around Gonaives. The Red Cross network is helping the government’s Department of Civil Protection with evacuations in downtown Leogane and surrounding areas. Relief distributions are expected as the extent of damage becomes clearer.

We are pleased that months of effort by the Red Cross to prepare for hurricane season have helped protect many vulnerable people living under tarps and tents. The American Red Cross has worked directly with tens of thousands of camp residents on disaster preparedness and risk reduction since May, knowing that hurricane season would pose a threat to the population.

Activities have included digging drainage ditches, sandbagging hillsides, clearing evacuation routes, emergency first aid training, installing early warning systems (flagpoles and bullhorns) and conducting workshops to teach children about what to do when a storm threatens. In addition, the Red Cross network has sent millions of SMS messages, providing people with simple and accessible information on the steps they can take to minimize their risk.

“We have dug a canal and fortified the foundations of shelters with concrete to prevent flooding," said Alex Latour, manager of disaster preparedness for the American Red Cross, as he walked through a muddy camp in Cannot on Saturday. "Obviously the best mitigation would be to get these people out of here, but this will at least help to reduce the risks that heavy rains pose."

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Anticipating that storms could wreak havoc in Haiti, the Red Cross network also pre-positioned emergency stocks for 17,000 families at 10 locations around the country so they could be quickly delivered to areas affected by the storm. These include emergency shelter kits, jerry cans, hygiene kits, and kitchen sets.

With all the rain from Hurricane Tomas, there are concerns about an increased threat from cholera. The Red Cross has been working for months to educate the camp populations about health and good hygiene, and has further ramped up those efforts with the cholera outbreak.

The recent cholera outbreak has thus far been largely contained to regions north of Port-au-Prince, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Red Cross, the government, and other aid organizations. Now, though, flooding poses a new threat from this water-borne disease.

Our cholera response has included provision of emergency personnel, supplies, chlorine to purify water and other support in the affected regions. At the request of the Haitian Ministry of Health, the American Red Cross shipped in 5,000 cots from a warehouse in the United States to increase the capacity of hospitals and clinics. Working in collaboration with other organizations – including Partners in Health and J/P HRO – we also sent two large shipments of Lactated Ringer’s, a treatment for dehydration that can be given orally or intravenously.

The Red Cross network has established a cholera treatment centre in Arcahie, northwest of Port-au-Prince, and plans two additional cholera treatment centers in other parts of the country.

The American Red Cross has been working for months in the camps of Port-au-Prince educating tens of thousands of people about health and good hygiene. In response to the cholera outbreak our health promotion teams have more than doubled in size, to about 230 promoters, and we expect to directly reach about half a million people with cholera prevention messages within a month. These face-to-face messages about cholera have been reinforced by millions of text messages sent to about 380,000 cell phone users by the Red Cross network, as well as radio broadcasts.

The Red Cross network has also been distributing 660,000 gallons of purified water across Port-au-Prince every day for months.

Thanks to the generosity of the American people following the January earthquake, the American Red Cross anticipates having the funds necessary to respond to these emergencies. We encourage those interested in recovery efforts in Haiti to visit for updates on the Red Cross response. If you wish to support the American Red Cross with its response to about 70,000 disasters each year, please visit