Hurricane Matthew killed at least 283 in Haiti, corpse in street, no aid

By Reuters/Makini Brice and Joseph Guyler Delva   October 6, 2016 | 05:35 pm PT
Hurricane Matthew killed at least 283 in Haiti, corpse in street, no aid
People try to rebuild their destroyed houses after Hurricane Matthew passes Jeremie, Haiti, October 6, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Anger grows in hurricane-hit town.

Hurricane Matthew has killed at least 283 people in Haiti, including dozens in one coastal town that authorities and rescue workers were only beginning to reach days after the storm, officials said on Thursday.

The Interior Ministry, a mayor and other local officials confirmed the numbers across Haiti to Reuters, with many victims killed by falling trees, flying debris and swollen rivers when Matthew hit with 145 mph (230 kph) winds on Tuesday.

Haiti's civil protection service has so far put the toll in the impoverished Caribbean nation at 108 dead.

Most of the fatalities were in towns and fishing villages around the western end of Tiburon peninsula in the country's southwest, one of Haiti's most picturesque regions. The storm passed directly through the peninsula, driving the sea inland and flattening homes on Monday and Tuesday.


People walk on a street next to destroyed houses after Hurricane Matthew hit Jeremie, Haiti, October 6, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

"Several dozen" died in the coastal town of Les Anglais in Sud Department, said Louis Paul Raphael, the central government's representative in the region.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Raphael.

Les Anglais was the first to be hit by Matthew and has been out of contact since then. Just before the storm hit, the mayor told Reuters people were fleeing their houses in panic as the sea surged into town.

A few miles south in Port-a-Piment village Mayor Jean-Raymond Pierre-Louis said 25 people died. Further south still, in the village of Roche-a-Bateau, 24 died.

In Grand Anse Department, also on the storm's destructive path but on the other side of the peninsula, 38 more lost their lives.


An injured man recovers at the hospital after Hurricane Matthew passed Jeremie, Haiti, October 6, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Along with the human devastation, the storm killed livestock .

In one public hospital in Les Cayes, a port town on the Tiburon peninsula, most doctors had not shown up to work since they took shelter as the storm hit. Food and water was scarce in shelters.

The devastation in Haiti prompted authorities to postpone a presidential election scheduled for Sunday.

Poverty, weak government and precarious living conditions for many of its citizens make Haiti particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. In 2010, a magnitude 7 earthquake wrecked the capital Port-au-Prince, killing upwards of 200,000 people.


Workers bury dead bodies after Hurricane Matthew passed Jeremie, Haiti, October 6, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

In the earthquake's wake, U.N. peace keepers inadvertently introduced cholera to the country, killing at least 9,000 and infecting hundreds of thousands more.

The Pan American Health Organization said on Thursday it was preparing for a possible cholera surge in Haiti after the hurricane because the flooding was likely to contaminate water supplies.

In Les Cayes' tiny airport, windows were blown out and the terminal roof was mostly missing although the landing strip was not heavily damaged.

"The runway is working. In the hours and days to come we can receive humanitarian flights," said Sergot Tilis, the information officer and runway agent for the airport.


People walk around near destroyed houses after Hurricane Matthew passes Jeremie, Haiti, October 5, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins.

Corpse in street, no aid

A lifeless body caked in blood and mud lies in the street for days, and promised food and water supplies fail to materialize. Desperation turned to anger in southwest Haiti on Thursday as residents grappled with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

Dozens of men and women in the town of Cavaillon gathered by the corpse, which they said washed up when a river burst its banks as the hurricane hit on Tuesday. The male victim was one of at least 261 storm deaths in Haiti.

"There is a man on the road. The state is not taking its responsibility," said Ashley Dody, a resident of Cavaillon, which was cut off by flood waters until Thursday, leaving locals with little food or drinking water.

"Where is the Haitian government, where are they?" one woman yelled. One man shouted, "We are hungry now" as the town mayor tried to calm tempers and peacekeepers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti looked on.

The hurricane hit Cavaillon with winds up to 145 mph (230 kph) at about midnight on Monday, but it wasn't until the next afternoon that flood waters forced people to seek higher ground in the hills behind the town, said resident Roosevelt Esperance.

Into the night, men from the town helped women and children cross roads that had turned into raging brown rivers.

When they came down on Wednesday morning they found destruction. Houses in the town have been reduced to rubble. In one, a television and stereo system could be seen poking through chunks of concrete and thick mud, along with a suitcase full of sodden school books.

"Water, food, clothing for people in dire need, we need all of that," said Esperance, who said he found the unidentified body. "He came to seek shelter in the mountains like everyone else, but he fell."

Nine people died in the town, including at least three children, the mayor said. In the distance, a coffin for another victim was carried away.

Oasis of the South

The reach of the state is minimal in much of Haiti, and in the absence of help from authorities, people turn to each other.

Along the coast from Cavaillon, the sleepy fishing village of Torbech was heavily damaged by Matthew. Many people tried to ride out the storm at home when the village's only shelter filled up but fled when trees and surging seas crushed their huts and houses.

With nowhere else to go, some 200 of them arrived amid howling winds and lashing rain at Villa Mimosa, an upscale resort run by former government minister Mimose Felix.

Teacher Juditte Destin grabbed her three kids and ran to the hotel at 4 a.m. on Tuesday when a tree fell on her home.

"The madame gives us food, water and a place to sleep," said Destin, whose school was also destroyed in the storm.

But even in the relative comfort of the hotel, the lack of government support was pressing. Felix said she had run out of food to give to her unexpected guests.

"Before it was like an oasis, it was heaven. I called it the oasis of the south," Felix said, surveying the broken walls and fallen trees, and her swimming pool, now a swampy green.

Among those at the hotel, heavily pregnant Emma Etienne was due to have a cesarean section at a local hospital, other women said, but she was turned away after the storm.

Wearing just a night gown and no shoes, Etienne groaned and grimaced in the agony of labor, and a natural birth would be dangerous for her, friends said.

But many doctors have not returned to hospitals in Les Cayes, the nearest town, since the storm, and no easy solution was in sight for her.

Matthew is the strongest hurricane in the Caribbean since Felix in 2007 and was moving toward Florida as a Category 4 cyclone, the second strongest on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. Four people were killed over the weekend in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

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