Rescue workers in some areas were forced to suspend their efforts as the rains swept in. Grace strengthened from a tropical depression to a tropical storm early Tuesday, drenching Haiti with up to 10 inches of rain, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Isolated areas received 15 inches.
In Les Cayes, a major city on Haiti's southwestern peninsula, the rain and wind exacerbated a burgeoning homelessness crisis caused by the earthquake. Many desperate residents spent Monday night huddling outdoors under tarps or other makeshift shelter, while others fled back to quake-damaged homes as the downpour intensified.
Casimir Chery, 24, said no emergency shelter was available, so he slept on the street under a plastic sheet. "We hear that we can't sleep in our homes, but what can we do?" he said. "We don't have tents."
Marie Michel Nicolas, 60, said she and 17 family members tried to ride out the storm in a tent, but it was pummeled by the rain, driving them back into their unstable two-bedroom home. "This storm and the rain are just one disaster on top of another," she said.
The 7.2-magnitude earthquake Saturday and the subsequent tropical storm have intensified the pain of a country already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, rising gang violence and a political crisis that deepened last month with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
By Tuesday afternoon, the rain had tapered off in much of southwestern Haiti. But "the negative consequences will continue in the hours and days to come," warned Martin Coria, the regional director for the Church World Service charity. The rain sent mud cascading over roads in the mountainous region, making remote communities even harder to reach, he said in a telephone interview.
Many residents complained that aid was painfully slow to arrive.
Marie Bedar Samedi, 60, one of hundreds of people who spent the night in a giant tent in the Brefet neighborhood of Les Cayes, said someone brought food Monday night for the first time since Saturday's quake. "But it was inedible, it was spoiled," she said. "We had to throw it away." She managed to salvage food from her damaged home. "I don't see how we will eat tomorrow," she said.
U.S. officials said emergency operations had been suspended Monday night because of the storm but were ramping up again Tuesday. Military helicopters were being dispatched to Haiti's hard-hit southwestern peninsula to bypass damaged bridges and roads, and seven U.S. Coast Guard cutters were steaming toward the impoverished nation. Meanwhile, a 65-member search and rescue team from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in Virginia started work in the disaster area.
Asked whether Haiti was receiving enough foreign aid, Sarah Charles, assistant administrator of the USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters that "we are working with international partners to scale up assistance. Much more will be needed in the coming days and weeks."
Officials on Tuesday raised the death toll to 1,941 people. The quake was stronger than the devastating 2010 temblor that led to the deaths of more than 220,000 people, but it was centered farther from the densely populated capital. Thus far, U.S. officials said, assessments suggest Saturday's quake damage did not compare to that earlier disaster.
Still, the death toll was expected to climb, as authorities arrived at villages cut off by rubble and washed-out roads.
Roosevelt Louis, head of the Fondation Sainte Rose d'Haïti, a charity in Les Cayes, said he had heard that a community north of the city, Maniche, was in critical condition. "But we can't go there because of the rain," which had made the roads impassable, he said.
The weather was not the only barrier to relief operations. Violent gangs were hindering aid groups from reaching quake-shattered areas, the Haiti mission of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Tuesday. "W/out sustained, & unhindered #humanitarianaccess, thousands of people in need of urgent assistance could die," the office tweeted.
Haitian officials and U.N. representatives have negotiated permission for two relief convoys to travel from the capital, Port-au-Prince, to the southwestern peninsula, on a major road that gangs had blocked for months, according to the U.N. office. But the situation was volatile. "There is not a reliable, permanent humanitarian corridor," said Coria. "It's one truck at a time, one day at a time."
Further complicating matters, he said, some residents of towns along the route were stopping the convoys to demand aid. And there were few places for truck drivers or crews to sleep or eat. "All the guesthouses and small hotels in the field that we used in the last five years, after Hurricane Matthew, they are all destroyed," he said.
As the tropical storm swept past on Tuesday, residents of Les Cayes tried to recover. Traffic was snarled by flooding and cracks that snaked through the streets. Still, pharmacies and money-transfer businesses - a lifeline for the millions of Haitians who rely on transfers from relatives abroad - reopened. Residents using shovels and their bare hands resumed their painstaking efforts to extract victims from collapsed buildings.
Chery said he had pulled four bodies from the wreckage of a three-story apartment building in the Brefet neighborhood a day earlier but had not given up hope of finding survivors.
"We still have at least one person alive in the rubble," he said.
More than 84,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged by the quake, in a region that was already whipsawed by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
"The remote areas are as badly damaged as the city," said Silvera Guillaume, civil protection chief in southern Haiti, one of the three regions hit hardest by the quake. "We're still collecting information, since there are places we have yet to get to." He appealed for more international assistance. "We don't have the means to respond."
The center of Tropical Storm Grace was moving near the northwest coast of Jamaica on Tuesday evening. The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned that the system was likely to strengthen into a hurricane Wednesday as it approached the Yucatan coast of Mexico.
Published : August 18, 2021
By : The Washington Post · Widlore Merancourt, Mary Beth Sheridan, Anthony Faiola