As water in Jimaní recedes, destruction becomes clear

تم النشر: 1 يونيو 2004 0:00 CET

Alejandra Araúz in Jimaní

Jimaní is dry now, but the marks left by the recent floods will remain for a long time: not only on the ground, the broken trees, damaged houses and mud-covered streets, but more than anywhere, on the faces of those who survived. Another lingering effect is the smell – a particular stench of rotting.

Since the beginning of the emergency, the Dominican Republic Red Cross activated, among others, their psychological first aid teams, who have been offering support to those who have not only lost their homes, but also their loves ones.

Last Thursday, the rescue teams collected almost 50 new corpses. For sanitary reasons and because immediate identification was impossible, they were buried in mass graves.

According to latest figures, more than 400 people have died in the Dominican Republic as a result of the floods and landslides, the vast majority in Jimaní. Mayn more are still unaccounted for. In neighbouring Haiti, almost 1,000 people have died, and 1,600 more are registered as missing.

“I was holding my son’s hand, and the water took him of,” a father tells a Red Cross volunteer, remembering the last time he saw his five years old child alive.

The man lives in ‘La 40’, Jimaní’s worst-affected neighbourhood, where dozens of houses were destroyed by the water, burying people or sweeping them away as they slept. Dorka a mother from the same community, lost her four children. "This is a terrible blow. They are all gone," she weeps.

More lucky was Rosa, an Haitian immigrant, who managed to save the life of her six-day-old baby. Now, however, like many others, she is homeless and has lost her possessions.

According to official figures, 628 houses were damaged and more than 200 were completely destroyed in Jimaní alone. The hygiene situation is very sensitive, and aware of the danger of an outbreak of waterborne disease, trucks have been bringing in clean water for drinking and cleaning purposes.

With many people separated from their loved ones, the Dominican Red Cross has also activated its family tracing service in a bid to reunite them.

Other priorities include restoring electricity and public services such as health care, and establishing long-term shelters for the homeless. Because of the great solidarity and generosity of the Dominican people, items like clothes and mattresses are no longer required.

The next steps

Having concluded the search, rescue and evacuation operations, the Dominican Red Cross, with the support of the Federation’s Pan-American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU), is still assessing the damage in the affected areas and carrying out other relief activities.

Dr Miguel Rivera, national head of volunteers of the Dominican Red Cross, says the performance of the Red Cross teams was highly effective. “Our volunteers were prepared, and so were the branches because we have recently been working on a contingency plan for the presidential elections. They are well trained,” he pointed out.

Now, the next step is to reduce the impact of the floods on the most affected families, by drawing up a relief action plan. Water and sanitation is a priority, so are shelter, food, medicine and other supplies like hygiene kits, mosquito nets and kitchen sets.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, the first two aircraft with Red Cross humanitarian aid arrived to Santo Domingo. The first aeroplane, sent from the PADRU warehouse in Panama, landed at Las Americas International Airport. It was carrying 750 hygiene kits, 2,250 sheets of plastic, 750 kitchen sets, 100 tents and 750 jerry cans for the safe storage of water.

Early the next day, a Spanish Red Cross plane arrived in Santo Domingo with a similar cargo, and in addition, two water treatment plants and 235 first aid kits.

“Both cargos are part of the positive international response to the emergency appeal launched last week by the International Federation. This week, another shipment will bring, among other relief supplies, impregnated mosquito nets and water purification powder. Correct sanitary conditions are one of our main priorities,” said Nelson Castaño, head of PADRU.

On 28 May, the Federation launched an appeal for 912,000 Swiss francs (US$ 717,000) for the flood victims in Dominican Republic and Haiti, but now that the true scale of the disaster has become clear, it has revised the amount sought to 2.4 million Swiss francs (US$ 1.9 million).

The Federation is coordinating its response with National Red Cross Societies, particularly the American Red Cross, the French Red Cross, the Netherlands Red Cross and the Spanish Red Cross. Other agencies involved as external partners include the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the European Commission’s humanitarian office, Oxfam, the World Food Programme, UN Development Programme and Telecommunications without Borders.