Flood Weary Haitians Focus on Recovery, Not Forecast

Here’s the latest update from CRS’ program manager for Haiti, Greg Elder. He’s working with emergency responders and helping to keep us informed on conditions following massive storm damage.

Gonaivies, Haiti: There’s more rain on the horizon, but for us it’s still work as usual. People are used to storms coming and going during hurricane season. The U.S. embassy has sent out warnings about flash flooding, but you don’t hear a lot of people talking about it. It’s not something being broadcast on the news. Rather than worrying about future disasters, everyone is more focused on our current efforts in the aftermath of Gustav and Hanna.

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A woman surveys some of the destruction in the Cathedral in the port city of Gonaives, Haiti. The Cathedral is currently sheltering up to 200 people in its upper level. Photo by Greg Elder/CRS

CRS has a contingency plan in place in case the rain exacerbates the situation. We work in tandem with the civil protection communities started by the Haitian government to help mitigate disasters. They are trained to inform people about when the storms are coming, where to find shelter, and are stocked with prepositioned supplies.

We’re moving ahead full steam. There’s really no time to waste when responding to these last few storms. There are still areas with standing water. There’s a sense of nervousness, because certain Haitian communities can’t afford any more flooding. No one is sure how much rain these storms will drop. If it’s a big downpour it could affect (relief) access, especially to Gonaives. We’ve just finished a temporary bridge, which has allowed us to travel there by land. Rains would be a huge setback and force us to return sending supplies via helicopter.

There are still some areas of Haiti that remain inaccessible, especially in the tip of the southern peninsula. Roads have been washed out, destroyed along the coast in numerous places. Dozens of towns, coastal ones, but also others in the rainforest or perched in the mountainous terrain are extremely hard to get to. Makeshift roads have cropped up and people are making do by living off the land, their remaining crops and fruit trees. There is small-scale commerce taking place, by street vendors coming and going from town-to-town on foot. Inaccessibility is not a death sentence, but it does mean the people in those regions have to suffer longer.

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Catholic Relief Services workers pick up supplies to be distributed in the port city of Gonaives, Haiti. Aid workers ship food and supplies by boat and air when roads are inaccessible. Photo by Greg Elder/CRS

Today CRS is traveling by helicopter with the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and U.S. military personnel to survey the damage and help with response in hard to reach areas. Helicopters are flying in to the central part of the country as we try and determine Haiti’s greatest needs.

The most important aspect of our work is getting food and water to hungry and thirsty people. Saving lives, helping people day-by-day until they get back on their feet, that’s our priority. We’ve started our cash-for-work program and have undertaken the task of clearing away debris and helping to reopen roads. Slowly, if the rains subside, we’ll be able to get Haiti back on its feet.

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