Hurricane Sandy, the deadly storm that slammed into New York and New Jersey in October, tore through the Caribbean long before reaching America — and in Haiti, many still await help.
Flooding from Sandy killed 54 people and left thousands homeless in Haiti, another woe for a country still struggling to recover from a 2010 earthquake that left more than 200,000 dead.
A cholera epidemic that broke out afterwards has since killed around 7,600 people but even its effect worsened with the recent rains — 44 deaths were reported in the past month, according to Haiti’s Ministry for Public Health.
Nearly a month after the government of President Michel Martelly declared a national emergency due to Sandy, scores of residents in the hard-hit town of Petit-Goave, in south-western Haiti, still live in emergency shelters.
In the Nan banann (Among the Bananas) neighborhood located between the Caiman river and the sea, residents mourn their dead outside homes still buried under layers of mud and banana trees swept in by flood waters.
“It’s the Caiman river that is the cause of our misfortunes,” said Elnee Prophete, one of the storm victims.
“When it overflows, it sweeps away everything in its path,” Prophete said, pointing to what remains of her house, buried to the roof in a reddish mud.
Some neighborhood families were given shelter in a school in another neighborhood. Others, however, chose to stay in place.
Marie-Yolaine, 24, is distraught over the loss of her young to the storm. She refuses to speak about her experience. “What’s the point?” she whispers, tears streaming from her eyes.
At Nan banann, which was built next to the Petit-Goave cemetery, “there is no separation between the living and the dead,” said Guy Mathieu, owner of a local radio station.
According to Mathieu, Petit-Goave’s geography “is like a bowl, where the water of several rivers pours in.”
Dordy Charles, a resident who advocates building stone levees to keep the rivers from overflowing, blames many of the town’s woes on flooding.
“The problem is the water, and learning how to manage it is the solution,” Charles said.
Sandy flooded several Petit-Goave neighborhoods, including Acul, founded in 1663. Acul was “the first capital” of neighboring Spanish-speaking Santo Domingo, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, Mathieu said.
The radio station owner notes with some bitterness that Petit-Goave is preparing to mark the 350th anniversary of its foundation next year.
In the vulnerable neighborhoods, catastrophe is on the mind each time it rains. “We sleep with one eye open,” a young man told AFP.
Since Sandy struck and the first Haitian emergency workers briefly visited Petit-Goave, “nobody has come to see us,” complained Paguy Labbard, who is living in the shelter along with 300 other people.
“We were thrown into a school where adults and children sleep on the same ground, we have received no assistance,” said Labbard.
Immaculee Achille, who lost her home to the 2010 earthquake, found herself in the shelter again, this time with the eight grandchildren she has been caring for since the quake killed their parents.
“We cannot go back home, everything has been swept away,” said Achille. “But we do not want to stay here.”
She wants government help. The first day after the hurricane tore through she recalls receiving a warm plate of food from emergency workers.
“Since then … nothing,” Achille said.