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Haiti avoids storm disaster, but concern grows about disease

There was huge relief when Hurricane Tomas skirted to the north of Haiti on Friday, sparing the crowded tent camps around the capital Port-au-Prince where over a million Haitians are living. “We have avoided the worst,” declared the spokesperson for the United Nations (UN) Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. However, as predicted, Tomas brought heavy rainfall which caused flash flooding and mudslides. Coastal areas were worst affected and eight people were reported to have died during the hurricane. Flooding was reported in Les Cayes, Jacmel and Gonaives and some mountain towns were cut off by landslides.

One of the worst-hit places was the town of Leogane, west of Port-au-Prince. Leogane was the epicentre of the earthquake which hit Haiti in January and on Friday torrential rainfall turned its streets into rivers. 15 of the camps housing families made homeless by the quake were flooded. A spokesperson for Save the Children estimated that around 35,000 people had been affected. The UN humanitarian coordinator flew over the flooded areas by helicopter and reported that coffee and other crops had been damaged by the hurricane. One farmer in Leogane, Jean Pierre, had just planted new banana trees and yams and said that all his work had been washed away. Like most in the area, Jean Pierre’s home had collapsed during the earthquake and the new house he had built was flooded. The tent home of mother-of-three Amercie was also submerged. Taking refuge near the town’s cemetery, she was worried about the unsanitary conditions as tombs cracked open by the earthquake were surrounded by water. The country director of Save the Children warned that thousands of children around Leogane are even more vulnerable to contracting diarrhoeal diseases.

Aid workers are also worrying about the increased risk to Haitians from the cholera epidemic. To date, over 7,000 people have been affected by the disease and the death toll now exceeds 500. The floods have increased the risk of the water-borne disease spreading to new areas and medics are expecting infection rates to rise. In Saint Marc, the northern town where the cholera outbreak first emerged three weeks ago, doctors are already reporting a rise in cases. In addition, some new admissions are reported to be suffering from typhoid fever, which is also caught from contaminated food or drink.

To help with the current emergency, the UN and the government of Haiti have asked for fresh donations of 19 million dollars. Whilst hurricane Tomas spared the region from the kind of damage many had feared, Haiti is still in desperate need of international assistance.

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