In deadly Sandy’s wake, rain in Haiti adds insult to injury
CAP HAITIEN, Haiti — Two weeks after deadly Hurricane Sandy socked Haiti, Yves Bien-Aime, a tailor, is still trying to salvage something from his shop.
But it is now buried deeper under thick layers of mud let loose by a new barrage of rainstorms that hit a city already mired in tons of muck.
“There were some orders that were swept away. I cannot salvage a thing,” lamented Bien-Aime, desperate and exhausted, a shovel in hand to try to push back the crush of earth that have made his shop a total loss.
Flooding from Sandy left 54 people dead and thousands of others homeless after it struck Haiti late last month, adding one more woe to a country still struggling to recover from a 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.
Then Thursday night, driving rainstorms again soaked Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, unleashing more floods that killed at least 20 people.
Many of Cap-Haitien’s neighborhoods, like the La Fossette slum, were devastated, with humble homes and their furnishings swamped or simply swept away.
“We didn’t even have anything. And now, we have lost everything,” sighed Rochenel Cineus, 36, a father of three who has been sleeping in the street since the latest deluge.
In another slum known as “Below the Ravine,” locals mill about with bucket-loads of water, mud and trash clotting the tiny hovels built one atop the next, precariously perched on a slope.
Women wash laundry in big buckets. Nearby, a man tries listlessly to dig some papers, then a few books, out of the muck.
“My shoes, my uniform and my notebooks all were lost,” said Peterson Enelus, a schoolboy of 12, in his underwear next to a water fountain.
The Philippe Guerrier school, which usually has more than 6,500 students, had to shut down and its director Michelet Saintilus called in workers to dig out the mud-caked classrooms.
“We are going to try to get school back in session as soon as possible,” he pledged. Saintilus said this was a call to arms for Haiti’s authorities to ensure building safety since, in his view, unsafe housing endangers the whole city.
“This is the beginning of a catastophe,” he warned. “The city of Cap-Haitien is extremely vulnerable. And we need a strong government to take action to stop the (environmental) degradation.
Another Christian Brothers’ school has been quickly converted to a temporary shelter. The principal said he had no idea how soon its 200 displaced students will be able to get back to learning.
“The authorities have sent people here. We are waiting,” brother Charles Coutard, a Frenchman living here for 40 years, said with resignation.
Coutard slammed the trends that keep adding to Hait’s misery: deforestation and the erosion it yields; an exodus from the countryside to overcrowded cities short on housing; and chronic political instability.
“The country does not have any resources. We have two billion dollars for our national budget and the Americans spend six billion on one election,” he mused, dismayed.
Since Friday, food aid from the capital Port-au-Prince has been received, at fits and starts.
But people are impatient and exhausted. Locals are outraged that they have not seen the authorities. They say they are sick of speeches, and want concrete actions.
One woman, desperate and distraught, shouted out: “The only faith we have left is in God.”
Locals confronted local officials on the streets. “We need major operations: emergency aid, and a major (infrastructure) disaster prevention program to stave off the worst,” said lawmaker Kenston Jean Baptiste.
The natural disasters are nothing new here, although that is cold comfort to victims of the latest one. Haiti was still rebuilding after the massive 2010 earthquake that leveled much of the capital, and left hundreds of thousands more homeless.