Haiti Says More Than 100 Died in Hurricane Matthew


Hurricane Matthew Stalls Haiti Election

In the aftermath of the Category 4 hurricane that hit Haiti, officials there decided to postpone the presidential election.

By MINUSTAH, VIA REUTERS on Publish Date October 6, 2016. Photo by Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »

The Haitian government drastically raised the death toll on Thursday from Hurricane Matthew, with officials saying that more than 100 people were killed instead of the half-dozen or so reported initially.

They said the figure was likely to rise further as international aid groups and government agencies reach the worst-affected areas in the south, which was slammed by Matthew on Tuesday with 145-mile-per-hour winds and torrential rain.

Since then, much of the southern areas have been essentially in the dark. Communications and even physical access were shut off, as cell service faltered and a bridge connecting the capital to the southern areas collapsed.

But now that transportation and at least some communication has been restored, knowledge about the extent of Matthew’s wrath, and the deaths caused by it, are becoming clearer.

“There is severe damage to the communities, and hundreds of deaths are expected and many more injured,” said Enzo di Taranto, the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti. “There will be a severe impact on the environment, agriculture and water systems.”

“Schools, hospitals and police stations, everything that there when the hurricane hit was in some way damaged, because of the strengths of the wind,” Mr. di Taranto said.


Homes lay in ruin in Les Cayes, Haiti. Credit Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

On Wednesday, officials said the hurricane’s damage had forced them to postpone an already-delayed presidential election set for Sunday in the country of 11 million, poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

Matthew left a broad tableau of devastation: houses pummeled into timber, crops destroyed and stretches of towns and villages under several feet of water.

The hurricane aftermath has already turned into a slow-rolling menace that could affect many more Haitians in the coming weeks and months.

The aftermath also is reminding Haitians of questions that still haunt the country from the 2010 earthquake, when international aid groups practically usurped the role of the government.

The government has been clear that this time around it will take the lead on coordinating aid, as donors bring in fresh water, food and money. But that, too, has its limitations.

The current government is an interim administration that was to be replaced in the Sunday election. There is no word on when that vote will be rescheduled.


Carriying a coffin in Petit-Goave. Credit Orlando Barria/European Pressphoto Agency

For international aid groups, striking a balance between working with the government and delivering lifesaving assistance expeditiously will define the coming months of the crisis, many say.

“There was a lot of taking stock of what lessons were learned after 2010,” said Jake Johnston, research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “And then you see a disaster and it all goes out the window and it’s immediate, whatever we can do as fast as possible.”

At the same time, he said, for donors, “bypassing the government is not going to save the day in the end.”

Though it appears the greatest fears of Matthew’s impact on Haiti were averted — deaths in the thousands and countrywide destruction — aid groups foresee food shortages, housing scarcity and rapidly spreading disease.

They especially fear cholera, a waterborne infection that has stubbornly plagued Haiti since the earthquake aftermath, when it was believed to have been inadvertently introduced by United Nations peacekeepers assigned to the country.

The CARE Haiti charity said in a report that three cases of cholera had already turned up in southern peninsula hospitals. Partners in Health, an international charity that has long worked in Haiti, said there had been 26,000 cases of cholera this year.


Crossing the Digue River in Petit-Goave. A bridge collapsed during the hurricane. Credit Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

According to the United Nations, more than one million people have been affected by the storm in Haiti — and at least a third of them will require humanitarian assistance.

Mr. di Taranto’s United Nations office, which is helping coordinate assistance between the government and humanitarian groups, said that more than 15,000 people were in emergency shelters.

The Civil Protection Force of Haiti put the figure countrywide at closer to 27,000 people, with the majority in the south. At least 20,000 homes were wrecked and hundreds of Haitians were injured, officials said.

Southerners in particular rely on subsistence farming, on lands that have now been flooded.

“We’re very worried about the country’s future in terms of food security,” said Hervil Cherubin, country director in Haiti for Heifer International, a nonprofit that works with more than 6,500 farming families in the south. “Most of the crops are gone. Many of the farm fields are like landfills. They’re full of trash, seawater, gravel and other debris.”

In the largest banana-growing area of the country, more than 80 percent of the crops that feed 20,000 families were destroyed by the winds and flooding, according to Mercy Corps.

In Jérémie, the capital of the southern department of Grande Anse, there was near total destruction. According to CARE Haiti, the storm destroyed 80 percent of the buildings and wrecked electricity and phone lines.

In Les Cayes, another southern area where the storm wrought the most damage and across the peninsula from Jérémie, people lost their homes, livestock and possessions.

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