ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Hurricane Matthew is now blamed for at least 18 deaths in the U.S. And in Haiti, more than 500 people are dead, though some estimates suggest that number may end up being much higher. The country’s in the middle of three days of national mourning.
The city of Jeremie is among the areas hit hardest. It sits on the tip of the country’s southern peninsula. Holly Frew is an emergency communications manager with the aid group CARE. She’s been trying to assess the situation in Jeremie.
HOLLY FREW: It’s really a scene of complete destruction and devastation. We came into Jeremie yesterday from Port-au-Prince. And as we started entering the southwest of the country, it just got progressively worse. I mean I’m on the hilltop right now, overlooking the city, and it’s just – I mean sprinklings of buildings that are still standing but just trees down everywhere, homes destroyed.
This area of Haiti is actually one of the most green and lush areas of the country, but you wouldn’t know that looking at it now. I mean it’s just – everything is leveled. All the trees are down – you know, uprooted. If they’re standing, it looks like a sea of just toothpicks.
SHAPIRO: The U.N. says 90 percent of Haiti’s crops have been destroyed in this part of the country. What are people eating? Is there enough aid getting to people?
FREW: Yeah, so food and clean water were – are critical needs right now, and we knew that going into – before the storm hit. So CARE actually has a team here in Jeremie and deployed an extra team with some prepositioned supplies with food and clean water. Yesterday we got 4,000 meals distributed.
SHAPIRO: How does that 4,000 meals distributed compared to the need?
FREW: It’s just a fraction. Yeah, I mean I think the U.N. has announced that there’s a million people that are in need of humanitarian assistance across the country.
SHAPIRO: Tell us about medical concerns. There was a lot of worry that this hurricane would lead to a spike in cholera cases. Do you know anything about that right now?
FREW: Yeah, we’re hearing of cholera cases being reported. I know that several new cases have been reported here in Jeremie, also in the south – in the southeast. I was in Jacmel, which was an area that was also badly hit, and they had at least 20 new cases reported.
So the outbreak of cholera is a huge concern, especially as people are still in some of these evacuation centers and living in these close quarters. You know, water sources are contaminated. So, yeah, clean drinking water – hygiene is a huge need.
SHAPIRO: I know that you were in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. How does what you’re seeing after this hurricane compare to what you saw then?
FREW: I would say it is somewhat comparable to what we saw then. The difference is that, you know, the earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, and here in Jeremie – Jeremie wasn’t as affected by the 2010 earthquake.
Now you see that the opposite. Jeremie has just been leveled, and Port-au-Prince was not quite as affected by the hurricane. But you know, you also have other parts of – I mean really the entire southwest is a similar scene to the earthquake.
SHAPIRO: Haiti has been in the news before this hurricane for cholera, for Zika, for other issues associated with extreme poverty, and then another natural disaster comes along. How can this country recover at this point?
FREW: Yeah, it’s going to be a long road. I mean the country was actually suffering from drought due to El Nino, and now they’re suffering from this hurricane and the flooding damage and the wind damage that that’s caused.
But you know, Haitians – they are a resilient people. They’re very vulnerable to these recurring disasters. So it’s going to be important to help them rebuild in a way that also helps make them a little more resistant to these disasters.
SHAPIRO: And so right now in Jeremie, are people clearing out debris? Are there still rescue attempts? Is it just a search for food, medicine and water? What’s the daily activity right now?
FREW: Yeah, I’m watching people cleaning up debris. A lot of people – you see them in their homes kind of salvaging what they have left of their homes and trying to start doing some repairs. There’s a lot, a lot of work to be done with debris clearing. The needs are just tremendous, and the level of desperation is rising.
SHAPIRO: Holly Frew is an emergency communications manager for the aid-group CARE. Thank you for joining us.
FREW: Thank you.