A Tropical Storm Is Adding To Haiti’s Misery Following A Devastating Earthquake

Octavio Jones for NPR

Felina Manita and her husband Jean are building a temporary home out of sticks after losing their home in the earthquake on Saturday.

CÔTEAUX, Haiti — In this coastal town west of Les Cayes, 57 year old Kettly Rosier is now terrified to sleep inside her house. Thin black fissures snake up her walls. The concrete floor of her second story — which is the ceiling of her kitchen — is cracked.

For the first two nights after the quake, Rosier and many other residents slept out in the main street.

“We cannot stay inside because all the house have been cracked. All the people are afraid,” she says through an interpreter. “After the earthquake we felt some shaking – two or three times after. We are very afraid. So we just go and stay outside.”

And their fears are not unfounded. Haitian officials on Tuesday raised the official death toll to 1,941.

UNICEF estimates that more than 84,000 houses were damaged or destroyed in the quake and 1.2 million Haitians have been affected by the disaster.

To make matters worse for the tens of thousands of Haitians who lost their homes in the earthquake, heavy rain and winds from Tropical Storm Grace pummeled the region Monday night and much of the day on Tuesday.

The storm crossed directly over the quake-ravaged portion of the country.

Fierce winds whipped the palm trees from side to side and tore at tin roofs as the weather system which arrived as a tropical depression intensified into a tropical storm.

Rosier and several of her neighbors took shelter in a house that had minimal damage from the quake.

“This is worse than Matthew,” Rosier says, referring to Hurricane Matthew, which struck this part of Haiti as a Category 4 storm in 2016. At least then, Rosier says, people’s homes hadn’t all just been damaged by an earthquake.

She is so terrified to go inside her house that she’s moved her kitchen to a tin shack outside.

Rosier says she hopes to repair her house at least so she can move back in but doesn’t know how she’s going to pay to do that.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of days,” she says. “I have to go to the house of my friend to sleep. But she already has so many people inside the room, I don’t know how many days I can stay. I don’t know how long I will be in this situation.”

And this situation — where Haitians are searching for a safe place just to spend the night — is playing out throughout this part of Haiti right now.

Near an outdoor market in Les Cayes, hundreds of people were erecting makeshift shelters yesterday ahead of the arrival of the storm. Noisil Smil, a father of seven children, was building a shelter out of strips of plastic sheeting he’d gathered. He was lashing the plastic to a frame of wooden sticks with wire from the remnants of a steel-belted radial tire.

The shelter is practically empty. There’s some cardboard on the ground. He has a small backpack with clothes. For food, he has a washbowl half-filled with dry rice. Flies dot the surface of the grain.

“It’s all that I have,” Smil says of the meager rations.

Images taken today of the field where Smil was setting up camp show the settlement destroyed. The ground a flooded, muddy mess. Shelters shredded by the wind.

Getting relief supplies to the region is a struggle

The storm didn’t just upend people’s lives again here, it also forced many aid agencies to suspend operations and delay shipments of relief supplies into the region.

“The situation is really bad and people are suffering,” says Akim Kikonda, the head of Catholic Relief Services in Haiti. “Rain is still falling, so we really need tarps and tents so that people can be protected from the rain and from the sun. Otherwise, we are going to have diseases and that will be a disaster on top of another one.”

Aid agencies are mobilizing what is expected to be a massive relief operation but so far very little of that aid has actually arrived. As of this morning, Kikonda said Catholic Relief Services had only been able to help about 200 families.

Kikonda says efforts to get supplies into the area have been hampered by blocked roads, bureaucratic hurdles and now Tropical Storm Grace.

He adds that local relief supplies have also been trapped in one of their warehouses due to damage to the building itself.

“Our warehouse was severely damaged,” he says. “We have to be extremely careful sending people inside to take those items out for distribution. So those are some of the challenges that we are facing.”

One bit of good news is that the rains are expected to stop for the next couple of days, allowing people to dry out and aid groups to ramp up their operations.

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