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Powerful storm strikes Haiti
September 27, 2010

Powerful storm strikes Haiti
Tents like these at Parc Colofe, shown in April, offered little protection from the strong winds and heavy rains that lashed Port au Prince September 24. (Christian Fuchs - Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
"In Parc Colofe almost all of the tents used for housing were destroyed. When our team arrived we found the people gathered in the larger tents meant for meetings and the tent used for our school. We gave them fuel for a generator, as the newly built electrical installation had collapsed in the storm. We also distributed food." ~ Lourdes Antuan

(Port-au-Prince, Haiti) September 26, 2010 – A powerful tropical storm battered the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on September 24, destroying and damaging many of the tents inhabited by the 1.2 million people displaced by the January earthquake who have lived in ad-hoc camps for the last nine months. The Jesuit Refugee Service team responded that very night, deploying our limited resources to address the most urgent needs.  

The following is an on the ground assessment from JRS-Haiti staff member Lourdes Antuan who led the team of first responders into four of the camps where JRS serves:

"We had just returned from the camps where we offer accompaniment to the displaced populations when a sudden storm struck the city, bringing strong winds and rains that destroyed practically all of the meager belongings of the people. We have had to offer emergency humanitarian support to those we serve in the face of this new emergency.

"In Parc Colofe almost all of the tents used for housing were destroyed. When our team arrived we found the people gathered in the larger tents meant for meetings and the tent used for our school. We gave them fuel for a generator, as the newly built electrical installation had collapsed in the storm. We also distributed food. People in the camp passed the entire night without sleep.

"In Henfrassa camp 255 families lost everything, including their tents. One woman suffered a heart attack and three other people were injured when their tents were ripped away by winds and several large trees collapsed on them. Many people showed signs that they were reliving the terror of the January 12 earthquake. Several survivors had asthmatic attacks from the trauma. Our team mobilized to offer what limited humanitarian assistance we could at the time so that residents could at least get through the night.

"In camp Automeca the situation is very dramatic. The people who were not evicted from the camp and forced to relocate two months ago are now living on a very fragile piece of land, on the downhill slope where the latrines were previously located. The camp has become a sea of mud and the air is dominated by a staggering odor left behind by human waste. We found the residents practically nude, scrambling to clean belongings and cut the branches and trunks of fallen trees. The rains and winds had tattered some of the tens and destroyed others. We don’t yet have a firm number on how many were destroyed, but it is much the same as in the rest of the camps – many will not sleep tonight and they have nowhere to go.

"In Palais de Art, 98 tents were destroyed or heavily damaged, including the JRS tent, which was dragged by the strong wind while several families were huddled inside – but luckily there were no resulting injuries. We approached the owner of the land and were able to negotiate with him to allow the people to take refuge in a different part of his land until six in the morning Saturday.

"With respect to the three camps of Villa Manresa, our colleagues tell us that some of the tents were destroyed but the people are committed to mutual support. It was impossible for us to get up there today.

"Near the border, in Fond Parisien, there were several deaths, injuries, and several houses were destroyed, including some in the nearby camp. Tonight I called our colleague, the Sister, and she sent us this information. We know that in Port au Prince, two children died and many were injured and otherwise affected. 

"The people here are disoriented and weary. They have once more lost what little they had recovered since the earthquake. Our teams stayed with the people until 10:00 at night. We didn’t see any other humanitarian relief teams come to the camps at that time, but we did encounter some representatives of the United Nations Mission to Haiti, walking through the camps assessing which tents were damaged. Early tomorrow morning we will continue in our outreach and triage efforts, offering what support we can. We suspect that many of the needs will surpass our capacity to alleviate, since the people now have no mattresses, no food, and no hygienic supplies or bathrooms, much less a safe place to lay their heads for a time. 

"It bears mentioning that many of the roads have been blocked by fallen trees and electric lines. Much of the city will remain without power for some time. All the JRS tents we installed in the camps have been destroyed or have been taken away by the wind."

Jesuit Refugee Service calls on the Haitian Government and the international community to deploy resources and explore policy options that will address the current emergency and better situate the population to withstand further natural disasters and offer safe and dignified housing for displaced Haitians:

1) Re-establish emergency distribution of food, water, mattresses, hygiene kits and blankets to displaced families, and those vulnerable to displacement.  Food should be locally sourced where possible and aid delivery should be carried out with consultation and cooperation of displaced leadership in the camps and community leaders in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. Tents should be distributed where permanent or transitional shelters cannot be constructed, but a high priority must be placed on establishing the right of camp residents to build shelters that are impervious to storms and hurricanes, rains and winds.  

2) To promote protection of vulnerable women and children, tents and transitional housing accommodations should focus on ensuring that every family group is given a separate tent, or home, avoiding the current practice in some camps (such as Henfrassa and Parc Kolofe) of housing two or three unrelated families in the same small dwelling, increasing the risk of exploitation and gender-based violence.

3) Aid must be distributed not only to camps in Port-au-Prince, but also to families living in vulnerable situations around the city, and to storm affected populations in more rural areas of the country.

4) A high priority must be placed on draining and removing broken limbs and other debris from affected camps.  Camp clean up and restoration may be a short-term food for work program or cash for work program for affected camps.  

5) Mobile health units should be deployed with support from mental health professionals, as the storm has had a detrimental psychological impact on a population that has already suffered serious trauma.

6) Where camps have been too badly damaged to support further occupancy, alternative living accommodations should be offered with full consultation and integration of the affected community in the process.

7) The Haitian Government should use its eminent domain authority to claim appropriate tracks of land for building permanent communities for displaced people living in vulnerable conditions.  In early September the Haitian government used its authority to claim lands for the rebuilding of government institutions. A similar strategy must be deployed to allow for transitional and permanent housing possibilities and durable solutions for the 1.2 million displaced.  

8) Before residents are relocated, the elected leaders or representatives of the camp should be consulted and taken to potential locations for a site visit so that they may report back to other camp residents.

Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
202-462-0400 ext. 5946