“The red alert has been launched this morning. This is the signal; the evacuations will start in two hours. Please make sure volunteers are ready to take their positions.” Marie-Chantal Pitaud, Disaster and Risk Management National Coordinator of the Haitian Red Cross, has been waiting for official authorisation to begin evacuating families living in high-risk camps in Port-au-Prince. The green light comes on Friday at 7am. With Tropical Storm Isaac set to hit Haiti later that day, there is no time to lose.
As the volunteers launch into action, Marie-Chantal and her team visit emergency shelters to make sure volunteers and the shelters themselves - set up in schools, community meeting rooms and fire stations - are ready to welcome people. “Our volunteers have been trained, they know what they have to do, I am confident they will be able to provide the assistance needed,” she says.
The day before, in anticipation of government approval, the Haitian Red Cross met with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to plan the evacuation of vulnerable families in 18 of the most at-risk camps. The plan was to move around 1,000 people to 14 emergency shelters once the storm arrives.
Fast forward to Friday morning and, with action approved, Marie-Chantal takes charge of 62 specially-trained Haitian Red Cross volunteers who will welcome and register camp evacuees as they arrive in the shelters.
Ahead of the evacuations, IOM and the government Department of Civil Protection (DPC) has worked with camp communities to explain the need to evacuate the most vulnerable people and the process for helping them move to emergency shelters. Alongside logistical and administrative support, the Haitian Red Cross also deploys psycho-social support volunteers to help those arriving to cope with the situation.
And the support from the Red Cross volunteers does not go unappreciated: as one of the seven ambulances deployed to transport people enters the camp of Marassa 14 in Croix-des-Bouquets, shouts of “Kwa Wouj tout bon bagay” can be heard. “The Red Cross is the best” in Creole. The Red Cross has always been there, on the ground, to support and provide assistance, people say.
As the day wears on, Tropical Storm Isaac modifies its path giving some hope that Port-au-Prince and the majority almost 400,000 people still living in camps will escape the worst to the storm.
And as the last of the evacuees make it to the safety of the emergency shelters, it is just a couple of hours before the storm is due to strike. Eleven of the shelters are full and, working together, the Haitian Red Cross, IOM and DPC have helped protect hundreds of the most vulnerable people from the threat of the storm.
But as the storm hits the island, volunteers stand ready to respond to the needs of the people in Haiti as they arise.