Haitians feel 'helpless' as Hurricane Matthew slams country
Tuesday, October 4, 2016, 2:39 PM - At least four people are dead as Category 4 Hurricane Matthew continues to batter Haiti with devastating storm conditions.
The eye of the storm made landfall near Les Anglais on the country's Tiburon Peninsula around 7 a.m. ET Tuesday morning.
While Haitian Karl Jean-Jeune says he feels safe located in the mountainous terrain of Port-au-Prince, he fears for his uncle and grandmother who reside in Les Cayes, a town located about 200 km southeast of Les Anglais.
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"They are reporting a lot of houses are boarded. There is flooding and the sea level rose up," Jean-Jeune told The Weather Network. "Trees are downed, fences are down and winds are blowing a lot of the rain into houses. They're also talking about metal sheets that are used to cover houses, they are flying all over the place. Most windows are open and exposed, so there is debris in my grandmother's home."
- Remains a Category 4 storm with winds of 230+ km/h.
- Matthew made landfall on Haiti Tuesday morning with threatening rain, wind and storm surge hitting the country.
- Hurricane WARNINGS in effect for Haiti, eastern Cuba, southeastern, central, northwestern Bahamas. Hurricane WATCH in effect from Deerfield Beach, Florida to the Volusia/BRevard county line. Tropical storm WARNING in effect for, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos Islands and discontinued in Jamaica. Tropical storm WATCH in effect for Dominican Republic and from the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys northward to south of Deerfield Beach, including Lake Okeechobee.
- Computer models continue to trend west, closer to the U.S. East coast for late week and weekend with direct hurricane impacts possible in Florida.
- Tropical storm or hurricane conditions could affect portions of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina later this week or this weekend, even if the centre of Matthew remains offshore.
- Florida, North Carolina declare states of emergency.
- Two possible scenarios for Atlantic Canada with potential major impact OR a rather tranquil long weekend if Hurricane Matthew does not phase with a trough.
Jean-Jeune's family members have yet to leave their home in Les Caynes. They are planning on waiting until the storm clears.
One man died in the beach town of Port Salut after a wave crashed through his home, according to Haiti's civil protection service. The man had been too sick to evacuate.
Some areas could receive up to 630 mm of rain, with life-threatening flash floods and mudslides likely in southern and northwestern Haiti, the National Hurricane Center reports.
Jean-Jeune says many residents have been reluctant to leave their homes.
"I know several places where the mayor had to call in police to help evacuate families," he said. "Residents are scared, they're helpless. Haiti media wasn't covering the storm overnight, just this morning. So, a lot of people were relying on Twitter and American media."
Haiti has a population of approximately 11 million people, with only 10,000 police officers, Jean-Jeune highlighted. As a result, many inhabitants rely on the United Nations to help with search and rescue efforts.
How Red Cross is responding
Residents are scrambling to emergency shelters. Fortunately, hundreds of Red Cross volunteers have been on the ground helping to relocate families.
"This unfortunately is a country that gets affected almost every year with hurricanes," Chiran Livera, deputy director of operations, disaster management with the Canadian Red Cross told The Weather Network. "So, there is quite a lot of experience responding to hurricanes with setting up shelters and providing relief during these storms. The volunteer network is quite expansive, especially in the southwestern part of the country."
Over the last several days, Red Cross has been setting up pre-positioned relief items including, health care supplies, food and water.
"The first thing we do is an assessment on what the needs are. As soon as it's safe to go outside the volunteers visit impacted houses to see what their basic needs are," said Livera. "Based on this, we prioritize who is the most vulnerable. The priority is always on life-saving assistance, this is what is happening right now. Then we move onto other areas of assistance."
Currently, Red Cross has enough supplies to respond to 5,000 families, according to Livera. There is also a regional warehouse in Panama for second level pre-positioned items. Within a week, the agency will be able to respond to another 10,000 to 15,000 families.
The storm has caused rivers to swell, making water-borne diseases a big concern for Red Cross.
"We have been telling people not to drink contaminated water. If residents have no choice but to use contaminated water, we are asking them to boil it first."
While Jean-Jeune says this is the worst hurricane he has ever experienced, his grandmother recalls Hurricane Flora that hit the country in 1963. Flora was one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history, with a death total of over 7,000. The last time a category 4 storm hit Haiti was Hurricane Cleo in 1964.
Jean-Jeune says he has been in constant communication with his family, calling his grandmother every 30 minutes.
"I feel like my grandmother is safe because my uncle is an army veteran and he knows what to do. As soon as the hurricane is over I will talk to them about the next steps."
How can Canadians help?
Currently, the Canadian Red Cross is monitoring the situation and assessing the needs of those affected. As a result, there is no Haiti-specific fundraising appeal at this time. However, in the meantime, Canadians can support the Canadian Red Cross International Disaster Relief Fund.