Hurricane Matthew Makes Old Problems Worse for Haitians
The first reports to arrive were of vast flooding and destruction, rivers of brown water pulsing through streets and homes shorn of tin roofs. Eventually, the talk turned to livestock lost, a veritable fortune for those living in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
But three days after the worst storm to strike Haiti in more than 50 years, the death toll is rising, and fast. From initial estimates of five dead, the government is now saying more than 280 people have been killed in Hurricane Matthew and its aftermath, the worst natural disaster to strike the nation since the earthquake of 2010.
The storm left a broad tableau of devastation: houses pummeled into timber, crops destroyed and stretches of towns and villages under several feet of water. In the southern city of Jérémie, 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed.
The numbers of known dead soared as officials and aid workers ventured deeper into areas cut off from rescue efforts in the south, discovering more bodies interred in flooded homes and streets. Until Thursday, there had been no connection to the south of the country — neither electronic nor physical, owing to severed phone lines and collapsed bridges.
“This is a very, very partial assessment of the damage and death,” said Annick Joseph, the country’s interior minister, during a news conference earlier in the day. Among other things, he added, dead were also being discovered in the mountains of the country, where communities are more isolated.
The sudden surge in numbers reflects, in some ways, the very nature of the many challenges that Haiti faces. The country’s infrastructure had been in decline for decades, even before the earthquake and other storms weakened it further. A fragile communications system, too, was unreliable even in the best of times.