Haitians rebuild as aid effort gains traction

People stand next to their destroyed house in Les Cayes, Haiti, following the passage of Hurricane Matthew.
PHOTO: AFP

HAITI - New tin roofs gleaming in the Caribbean sun and the sudden appearance of UN and US charity teams driving along now-cleared roads showed that southern Haiti was on Tuesday finally getting some of the aid it desperately needs.

But a week after Hurricane Matthew tore through the country, many remote areas communities were still left to their own devices.

Families with destroyed homes and shattered livelihoods waited and prayed for help. Food and clean water were scarce to nonexistent.

"We haven't seen anybody at all," said Jean Nelson, a 68-year-old resident of Groteaux, half an hour from the major city of Les Cayes where many aid groups and relief stores were located.

For the past week coconuts from the stripped and fallen trees had been sustaining villagers, many too poor to afford sacks of rice that have doubled in price since the disaster.

"People are hungry. Why haven't people come to help?" Nelson asked.

Hurricane Matthew closes in on Florida after devastating Haiti

  • Some three million people on the US southeast coast faced urgent evacuation Thursday as monstrous Hurricane Matthew - now blamed for more than 100 deaths in Haiti alone - bore down for a direct hit on Florida.
  • Highways in Florida and neighbouring states clogged up with people streaming inland to escape the storm blasting in from the Caribbean, as officials warned people tempted to ride it out they may be risking their lives.
  • President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Florida as it braced for the ferocious Category Four hurricane, expected to bring beach-eroding waves as tall as two-storey buildings and winds strong enough to snap trees and blow away roofs or entire houses.
  • Poor and vulnerable Haiti remained essentially cut in half two days after Matthew hit.
  • Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph said at least 108 Haitians have died, with 50 killed in a single town and reports of "complete destruction" in the island's south.
  • In its latest target, the storm slammed the Bahamas Thursday, blowing off roofs, downing trees and knocking out power.
  • Weather forecasters working out of Nassau airport had to flee for their lives.
  • According to the forecast track, the hurricane could make landfall in the United States near Cape Canaveral, where NASA's Kennedy Space Center is located, by Friday morning.
  • As US gas stations ran dry, frantic shoppers flocked to stores for essentials.
  • They snapped up batteries, transistor radios, bread, canned goods, bottled water, ice and pet food to gird for what Florida Governor Rick Scott warned would be a devastating, killer storm, with winds howling at up to 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour.
  • "Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate," he told a news conference. "Time is running out."
  • The region's strongest storm in years, Matthew regained power as it swirled toward the US coast, upgraded a notch to Category Four Thursday by the National Hurricane Center on its 1-5 scale.
  • In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the normally bustling resort turned into a ghost town as tourists loaded up cars, cut short vacations and fled north.
  • "It was packed with people here yesterday and then we came today and it was like 'Oh my God there is nobody here,'" Kelly Allmendinger, a 26-year-old bartender whose family was one of only two left on the eerily deserted beach.
  • Despite the mass flight, officials warned a worrying number of people were not heeding the evacuation
  • "People do not seem to get it and are not leaving," Sheriff William D. Snyder from Martin County, Florida, told NBC News.
  • "I'm not saying this to be theatrical... I asked my captain of detectives if he had body bags, because if we get 140 mile-per-hour winds in mobile home parks, we are going to have fatalities."
  • The fire service in St Augustine, northern Florida, issued a video message on Facebook warning that damage to the city was expected to be "catastrophic" and urging all holdouts to leave.
  • "We as a city are evacuating," said Fire Chief Carlos Aviles. "I cannot emphasise enough: we are encouraging you to leave." "If you are choosing to stay in St Augustine, you are choosing to do so at your own risk. There will be no public safety personnel to assist you."
  • Local residents take shelter at the Pedro Menendez high school in St. Augustine, Florida, on October 6, 2016, ahead of Hurricane Matthew.
  • Some 1.5 million coastal dwellers are under an evacuation order in Florida alone.
  • More than a million others in South Carolina and other coastal states were also told to escape the path of the storm, which first made landfall in Haiti Tuesday.
  • Mandatory evacuations were also ordered in six coastal counties in Georgia that are home to some 520,000 people.
  • People take shelter from Hurricane Matthew at Mainland High School, October 6, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students pass the time by playing cards at public shelter set up at Mainland High School.

But in Les Cayes and on the main road leading west from it, new roofs shined bright silver on most homes, a stark difference to previous days in which they had been open to the sky.

The price for the tin needed had risen 50 per cent - from $3 a sheet to $4.60 - but many found the money to protect their families from the scorching sun, tropical showers and mosquitoes.

The cellphone network which had been cut by the storm was now also mostly up and running.

But farther along, devastation on an apocalyptic scale was only starting to be addressed in the beach villages, where tourists once enjoyed the white-pebble beaches and light-green sea.

A UN peacekeeping team of Brazilian soldiers was at work Tuesday with mechanical diggers to clear the road.

The landscape was one of cracked and broken trees and houses ripped open by the worst of the storm, which packed winds of 230 kilometers (140 miles) per hour.

The soldiers also filled in water hazards on the route that residents had been forced to use for drinking water despite the risk of disease.

"Our mission here is to clear the way to allow the passage of humanitarian convoys," one of the soldiers told AFP.

Haitian Red Cross vehicles, UN police units and other official four-wheel-drive vehicles formed part of the increasing traffic on the road.

But so far the main aid handouts were by American Christian groups.

One of them, Samaritan Purse, gave out boxes of hygienic products - soap, shampoo, toilet paper - and white buckets with water-purifying chlorine pellets in them.

A woman with cholera symptoms receives medical atention at the health centre of Les Anglais, in Les Cayes in the southwest of Haiti.Photo: AFP

Desperate Haitians jostled, shoved and punched to get the boxes and buckets, despite Haitian police officers trying to keep order. Many were left empty-handed when the insufficient stock ran out.

"We're just trying to help the people most in need," said one worker at the site who declined to be identified because he was not an authorised spokesman.

He acknowledged a "security issue" with the distribution, but said that "at least the needed aid is getting out there." "This is good, because we didn't have anything at all before," said one 23-year-old man, Jean Absolem, who had received one of the packages.

UN agencies including the World Health Organisation and the World Food Program are poised to distribute their own, far bigger stocks of aid from Wednesday.

The WHO is sending a million cholera vaccine doses to Haiti to curb a spike in cases following the hurricane.

The WFP on Tuesday trucked in several tons of food to Les Cayes and said it would be distributing them early Wednesday in two of the coastal villages.

In more remote areas, though, the wait looked likely to drag on for a few more days.

In Ti Riviere, on a dirt side road not far from Les Cayes on the way to Groteaux, a group of young American and Canadian missionaries said they had been doing what they could since the hurricane struck, but their supplies were now almost exhausted.

Missionary Lexi Oudman said aid "was coming, it just isn't here yet."

"Hopefully we can get more aid here because the people need it," she said. "And pretty soon we're going to see a lot of desperate people."

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