It came a month before the official start of the season, but the intense rain that swept through the western end of the southern Haitian promontory over the weekend left parts of the city of Les Cayes under 1.5 meters of water and reportedly claimed eight lives.
“Yesterday it rained all day long and only stopped early this morning,” said Jean-Yves Placide, regional president of the Haitian National Red Cross Society at the branch in Les Cayes, west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. “The poor state of the sewers caused flooding in every quarter of the city,” he added in a telephone interview. In some places the waters rose to ceiling level in people’s houses.”
Haitian Red Cross responders are now working with the local authorities to assess the full extent of the damage.
Local journalists reported people had to climb on to roofs to escape the water cascading through the streets of the town, which is one of Haiti’s most important ports for the coffee and sugar trade.
Some houses are said to have collapsed, and patients at Les Cayes hospital had to be moved to safety on upper floors.
Cavaillon and Les Cayes were also affected by the January 12 quake, if much less seriously than Port-au-Prince and other towns to their east.
But like many towns and cities across Haiti, the 70,000 population of Les Cayes has been swollen by people displaced from the quake zone, who are staying with friends and relatives or camping in people’s yards and on open spaces.
“There are many people living in the streets who could not sleep last night,” Placide added. “The situation will be really worrying if it continues to rain. The sun is out now, but the storm clouds come and go.”
The flooding in Les Cayes has given renewed urgency to the effort to protect hundreds of thousands of acutely vulnerable people in the more than 300 improvised settlements that sprang up after the earthquake.
The latest figures from the inter-agency shelter group in Haiti, which is coordinated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socieites, show that nearly 40 percent of the1.3 million people have now had humanitarian shelter materials of some kind – tarps, tents and shelter toolkits.
But with less than a month to go before the April 1 start of the rainy season, humanitarian shelter in Haiti is a battle with the calendar.
Neither tents nor tarps are expected to provide much more than minimal protection from the Haitian rainy season, which peaks in May when Port-au-Prince gets an average 230 milimeters of rain, and sometimes as much as 50 milimeters in two hours.
“In addition to our earthquake response, we’re taking action to scale up preparations for the hurricane season, which starts around the middle of the year,” said Iain Logan, the International Federation’s head of operations in Port-au-Prince. “The early floods in Les Cayes are a sharp reminder that the very significant disaster-preparedness effort we started after the 2008 hurricanes will have to be expanded and adapted. We face an almost unique set of circumstances generated by a catastrophic quake, a rainy season and a hurricane season – one after the other in rapid succession.”
On Sunday, Les Cayes was cut off by road and – due to lingering bad weather – by air. But an inter-agency humanitarian assessment team was hoping to get through by air Monday.
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