Haitian Red Cross teams tackle aftermath of storm Isaac

Published: 27 August 2012

Focussing on the most vulnerable, teams from the Haitian Red Cross and International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have reached more than 50 of Haiti’s most at-risk camps in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isaac which battered the country on Friday night.

A round-the-clock emergency operations centre convened as the storm made landfall on Friday afternoon, monitoring the situation throughout the night and deploying emergency assessment teams to the most vulnerable camps, still home to tens of thousands of people, at first light on Saturday morning.

Further teams were dispatched on Sunday morning to the remote mountainous areas of Artibonite and Hinche, where heavy rains always pose the threat of flash floods and landslides.

Dr. Michaële Gedeon, president of the Haitian Red Cross, said the role of the organization was to help those most in need. “Those who remain in camps, and particularly pregnant women, children, people who have disabilities and older people, are hugely at risk when faced with the strong winds and heavy rain Isaac brought us,” she said. “Before the storm arrived the Red Cross helped evacuate some of those who were most in danger, and now the storm has passed we are going back to assist those who are most in need.”

On Friday morning, as Isaac bore down, Haitian Red Cross volunteers worked with the government’s department of civil protection (DPC) to move 1,000 people to safe emergency shelters and provide them with practical and emotional support.

And although the storm diverted away from its path, the heavy rain and winds still took their toll on the makeshift settlements.

“If this had been a direct strike on the camps in Port-au-Prince the damage could have been much worse, but we must not underestimate how difficult the living conditions are for people,” said Alexandre Claudon, head of delegation for the IFRC in Haiti.

“Some shelters have been blown away, many have been flooded and even for those whose tents are still standing, camps are swamped in mud.

“We are seeing serious problems with flooded latrines, and it is this mixing of human waste with floodwaters that poses the gravest danger in that it creates perfect conditions for cholera to spread.

“Unfortunately we are still only at the beginning of the hurricane season so there is every chance that we will be facing more storms between now and the end of the year.”

In partnership with the Haitian government department for water and sanitation (DINEPA) the Red Cross is supporting water trucking to some of the most vulnerable regions in response to the storm, and has further stepped up its efforts to head-off disease with teams of Haitian Red Cross hygiene promotion volunteers visiting camps and distributions of water purification tablets.

Even as teams are forging ahead with registering those in need and carrying out the distribution process for replacement tarpaulins, tools and materials to enable people to rebuild their shelters, along with soap and other hygiene items to combat the spread of disease, Red Cross preparations are already underway for further emergencies which may follow on Isaac’s heels.

The effects of Isaac’s impact are not limited to Haiti and neither are Red Cross actions in the Americas. In Dominican Republic and Cuba, national Red Cross societies has been hard at work in assessing needs and delivering assistance to vulnerable communities. In the Dominican Republic, Isaac’s heavy rains and winds have mostly affected the provinces of San Cristobal, San Pedro de Macoris where there are shelters open, as well as some parts of Santo Domingo, Barahona and Pedernales. First figures report that 9,000 people have been displaced, 1,250 people are in shelters, and 415 homes have been damaged.

Gustavo Lara Director General of the Dominican Red Cross. said the organization had mobilized its volunteers to support the most vulnerable. "Together with Prevention, Mitigation and Response Committees from the different municipalities, the Dominican Red Cross is assisting with preventative evacuations, search and rescue, opening of shelters, and removing of fallen tress and objects that are blocking streets,” he said.

The Red Cross has also been assisting the Ministry of Public Health, keeping a close watch on sicknesses that may provoke epidemics, sensitizing and training in shelters regarding health promotion and disease prevention with an emphasis in cholera. “Our water and sanitation teams have also been dispatched at the national level to evaluate water systems and availability of potable water, in addition to keeping the population and those housed in shelters informed on how to prevent disease both in their home and at shelters,” Lara said.

In Cuba emergency phases have now been changed after Isaac passed over the island, eastern provinces have now been declared to be in a recovery phase, while the central provinces up to Matanzas have been returned to a normal phase. The Meteorological Institute forecast indicates some light moderate floods particularly in the north-western region of the country. Rains are expected to continue throughout the day and night. Following Isaac’s impact, initial government reports some 123 homes damaged, as well as some loss of electrical services, which is being gradually restored. No major structural damage was reported on the island.

“In coordination with the Cuban Government Specialized Groups of Operations and Rescue have been activated and are working alongside the Fire Department to on search and rescue activities,” said Lucia Lasso IFRC delegate supporting Red Cross operations in Cuba. In their role as auxiliaries to the Cuban Government, members of the Cuban Red Cross have supported preventative mobilization of some 7,500 people in the provinces of Guantanamo, Granma, and Holguin part of the total 45,000 people mobilized away from vulnerable areas towards safe homes with friends and family. “The Cuban Red Cross continues to coordinate with Civil Defence, the IFRC, United Nations, the Norwegian Red Cross and the Ministry of Health to assist the most vulnerable ” added Lasso.

As rains continue in the Caribbean and with Isaac now predicted to become a hurricane in the Gulf during the next days, the IFRC’s Disaster Response and Early Recovery Unit in the Americas continues to monitor the situation in each of the affected countries. “We remain ready to assist the needs of National Societies responding to Isaac, our communications are constant and our pre-deployed delegates will help ensure that we can provide the highest quality support.” said Benoit Porte Disaster Response and Early Recovery Coordinator of the International Federation in the Americas.

For more information please contact:

France Hurtubise
Communications Coordinator, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Haiti Earthquake Operation | Camp de Base Croix-Rouge Haitienne
Avenue Maïs Gaté, Route Gérald Bataille
Port au Prince, HT6110
Tel: +509 3491 9813
E-mail: france.hurtubise@ifrc.org
Skype: Hurtu09