Many supermarket shelves in northern Haiti are now empty and many people in coastal areas are being evacuated inland to schools and public buildings in preparation for the worst of Hurricane Irma today and tomorrow.
Oxfam’s Tania Escamilla is in Cap Haitien – Haiti’s second city, population 280,000 – with Oxfam’s 27-person team which is currently working with authorities in assisting the evacuation. The government has prepared 793 temporary shelters across seven departments and, together with Oxfam and other agencies, is trying to move as many people away from the coast.
“I get the sense that people here are used to hurricanes and no-one seems frantically scared, but I’ve heard from many that some areas of the country haven’t even fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew last year – and now they’re facing this,” Escamilla said.
“While many are moving, there are quite a few people however who have decided not to evacuate but to stay put instead, fearing to lose their belongings and home,” she said last night.
The Oxfam team in Cap Haitien is already preparing to mount emergency repairs to water and sanitation facilities, under the DINEPA division of the Ministry of Public Works. “My engineering and humanitarian colleagues tell me that although cholera cases are considered low and “under control”, the disease remains their biggest concern should the storm wreck infrastructure,” she said.
“We fear that half-a-million people could be affected even in the best-case scenario – or as many as 3 million in the worst”.
Escamilla said Cap Haitien has a combination of well-established houses with slums in some areas including in the coast. “The damage that could likely happen from the winds and storm surge would be devastating for a large part of this city and surrounding towns”. Haiti’s geography and environment – and poverty – make people extremely vulnerable to flooding and landslides.
In Haiti, Oxfam has moved emergency aid into five locations across the country, three of which are in northern areas that will be the most exposed to the hurricane’s impact. Already four teams, made up of five or more specialists in emergencies, have been mobilized in Cap-Haitien, Ouanaminthe, Anse-Rouge and Gonaives. Oxfam also has nine cholera response teams now prepared to deploy.
Oxfam teams in Dominican Republic and Cuba are also preparing to respond. Oxfam has worked in the Caribbean region for over 30 years and has expert teams in providing safe water and carrying out sanitation and hygiene work for those people most vulnerable after an emergency strikes.