Churches act as tropical storm bears down on Haiti

By agency reporter
November 5, 2010

ACT Alliance members in Haiti have been racing to safeguard people and goods before Tropical Storm Tomas starts lashing the country.

The alliance brings together a huge network of church-related aid and development agencies on a global scale.

All of Haiti is on high alert while authorities assess whether to evacuate the entire southern coastal population. Half a million people are in the line of the storm.

Tomas has already hit the Windward Islands of St Lucia and St Vincent and is expected to reach Haiti today, 5 November 2010, possibly in the form of a Category 1 hurricane.

The United States’ National Hurricane Center predicts that Tomas will hit the western tip of Haiti’s southern peninsula on Friday morning, before heading northeast towards Port-au-Prince and Artibonite and passing the northern region overnight on 5 November.

If Tomas hits, storm surges and flooding along the southern coast are expected, as well as in the Gulf of Gonave. The tropical storm could create a mass exodus of people from camps that lie in its path.

Authorities are advising the 1.3 million people living in the camps established after the January earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel, to collect their belongings, secure their tents and seek shelter with family and friends elsewhere. They expect the camps to be flooded, and sanitation and hygiene materials that have been provided as part of the relief effort to be badly damaged.

ACT Alliance members are clearing project workplaces, securing showers and latrines in camps, and stocking up on water purification tablets and oral rehydration salts, tents, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits. Chlorox and oral re-hydration salts are also on the list, amid fears the cholera epidemic might spread when Tomas wreaks its worst. One ACT member is preparing two schools in Jacmel for 1500 camp residents to take shelter.

The cholera epidemic of the north and central regions is expected to worsen and spread further, as a result of flooding and population movement. The Haitian health ministry is planning for more medical goods and staff, and has issued more cholera prevention messages. Relief medicines and water purification stocks will need to be replenished.

President René Préval and the Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive convened an emergency meeting November 2 with UN representatives.

Authorities are delivering relief materials to areas in the line of the storm. But the lack of safe public infrastructures that people can use as shelters, in particular in Port-au-Prince and Leogane, is causing widespread concern. Schools will be closed on Thursday and Friday.

Major mobile phone networks have sent text messages advising people to leave camps. Television and radio spots are being broadcasted.

ACT Alliance is already planning repair work to damaged latrines, hand basins and showers once the storm passes on Sunday. It expects to provide water and to clean and pump flooded camps.

Alliance members will decide whether to close their offices today and tomorrow. Once the storm is over, they will carry out assessments, pooling their skills and resources to do this.

After the review, a decision will be made on whether a full ACT Alliance appeal should be issued, a spokesperson said.

With thanks to Christian Aid

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