Tropical Storm Exposes Haiti’s Vulnerable Tent Cities

“It came out of nowhere,” says Heather Lorenzen, nurse and Sexual and Gender-based Violence Coordinator for International Medical Corps Haiti.  “The sky got dark and the wind picked up, pretty strong winds, and it started raining.  No one knew whatsoever that there was going to be a storm.”

At around 3pm on Friday, September 24, a tropical storm battered the greater Port-au-Prince area, inundating tent cities with heavy rains and winds that toppled over trees, tents, and even health facilities. According to the Direction de la Protection Civile (DPC), six people were killed and 67 were injured as a result of the storm, which lasted roughly 30 minutes and overwhelmed the temporary shelters erected post-quake.

In camps in Bolosse, where International Medical Corps runs a primary health care clinic, community leaders reported that the storm knocked over tents as well as four to five trees. Water still covered the ground in much of the area over the weekend, when International Medical Corps investigated the areas in which we offer health services to assess medical needs. Our teams found the primary needs to be shelter, as many lost their tents, tarps, and makeshift shelters in the storm.  No additional health needs were found.

However, the fear of a larger disaster is still palpable in many of Haiti’s tent cities.  “I also think there is a fear that you know this wasn’t a hurricane, but we are still in the season,” says Lorenzen. “You know a lot of people are living in tents and I think there is a fear that if a hurricane or stronger [storm] comes you don’t know what will happen.”

International Medical Corps will continue running our primary health care clinics that serve camps in Bolosse, Petionville, and Tabarre.  Psychosocial services and counselors will also be available to offer emotional support to residents after the storm.

Community health volunteers will also be offering information throughout the three areas on preventing common illnesses like diarrhea as well as the importance of hand washing for health.  International Medical Corps volunteers are also trained in first aid and disaster preparedness and will be heading out into the communities this week to educate people on what they can do to prepare in case another strong storm hits.

The only non-governmental organization on the UN emergency response team in Haiti, International Medical Corps is prepared to deploy at least one doctor and one nurse within 24 hours in the event that a larger disaster occurs.  If needed, International Medical Corps will deploy medical teams and logistical support to bring emergency medical care to affected communities.

Thankfully, this team has not yet had to deploy, but this weekend’s storm showed just how delicate Haiti’s tent cities are.  And with some one million people hanging in the balance, the last two months of hurricane season, which officially ends in November, cannot pass fast enough.

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