When Hurricane Matthew hammered Haiti as a Category 4 storm in the early-morning hours of Oct. 4, meteorologists and humanitarian groups assumed the worst. Three weeks later, a full-blown calamity continues to unfold in western Haiti.
Aid groups are still surveying the damage, but it has been an extremely slow and painful three-week period for the country. The storm brought deadly wind and rain, but it also yielded concerns of disease in the disaster’s aftermath – fears that have proven legitimate.
“We can tell you that when our teams arrived, they compared the area to that of a bomb blast,” Dr. Joanna Cherry, chief medical officer of Hospital Bernard Mevs’ Project Medishare in Port-au-Prince, told NPR. “There’s no leaves left on any trees. There’s very little foliage still standing. There’s no shade in any areas. Multiple houses had their roofs taken off during the storm.”
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A man named Mason, with cholera symptoms, receives medical attention at Saint Antoine Hospital of Jeremie, southwestern Haiti, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
One town that took Matthew’s most direct hit was Jérémie. According to the Norwich Bulletin, that town experienced devastating winds for a combined nine hours before and after the eye passed. In a developing nation, there’s just no way structures can survive a battering of that magnitude.
Although the death toll varies by a wide margin, local aid groups say hundreds died in Jérémie and the surrounding villages, if not thousands.
“The fatalities being reported in the media are grossly underestimating what has happened,” Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, founder of the Haitian Health Foundation, told the Norwich Bulletin.
In Les Cayes, located in Haiti’s southwest, there’s still no accurate death toll, and Mayor Jean Gabriel Fortune told the Associated Press that some towns may be inflating the number of fatalities in an effort to get additional aid.
“I do think there are Haitians who are boosting numbers with the objective of attracting this relief they have heard about but are not benefiting from,” he told the AP. “And I also know that when central government officials claim they have things under control, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
As aid groups continue trying to reach hard-hit, rural areas, fears are rising that diseases such as cholera and tetanus will kill more Haitians. Waterborne diseases, Cherry said, have only worsened as rainfall persisted in the days following the hurricane. It’s just another reminder that Matthew’s impacts will linger for months.
“There’s no life here, at all,” Haiti’s Health Education Project Coordinator Samuel Bastien told WUFT.org. “And it’s really really sad to see that the people still stick around here because they don’t have any other place to go. They’re just right next to their broken house.”
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