By Laura Gottesdiener and Ricardo Arduengo
LESCAYES, Haiti – Flooding due to a storm overnight complicated efforts on Tuesday to seek survivors from a weekend earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 1,400 people and provide aid and relief to hundreds of thousands left struggling for food, water or shelter.
The quake brought down tens of thousands of buildings in the poorest country in the Americas, which is still recovering from a temblor 11 years ago that killed over 200,000 people.
“Countless Haitian families who have lost everything due to the earthquake are now living literally with their feet in the water due to the flooding,” said Bruno Maes, the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) representative in Haiti.
“Right now, about half a million Haitian children have limited or no access to shelter, safe water, healthcare and nutrition.”
By Tuesday morning, only a light rain was falling over Les Cayes, the southern coastal city that bore the brunt of Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude quake, after Tropical Storm Grace had unleashed torrential rains and floods in at least one region.
At a tent city in Les Cayes containing many children and babies, over a hundred people scrambled to repair makeshift coverings made of wooden poles and tarps that were destroyed by Grace overnight. Some took cover under plastic sheets.
Mathieu Jameson, deputy head of the committee formed by the tent city residents, said hundreds of people there were in urgent need of food shelter and medical care.
“We don’t have a doctor. We don’t have food. Every morning more people are arriving. We have no bathroom, no place to sleep. We need food, we need more umbrellas,” said Jameson, adding the tent city was still waiting for government aid.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said it had resumed rescue and relief operations on Tuesday morning after suspending them during the storm and was working with international partners to scale up assistance.
Haiti’s latest natural disaster comes just over a month after the country was plunged into political turmoil by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7.
Several major hospitals were severely damaged, hampering humanitarian efforts, as were the focal points of many shattered communities, such as churches and schools.
“We have around 34 children hospitalized now, but we still need more help from pediatricians. SOS,” Marie Cherry, a doctor at the Les Cayes general hospital, said via text message.
Doctors worked in makeshift tents outside of hospitals to save the lives of hundreds of injured, including young children and the elderly. Haitian authorities said on Monday that 1,419 deaths had been confirmed, with some 6,900 people injured.
As hopes faded of finding significant numbers of survivors in the wreckage, the storm impeded rescuers in Les Cayes, about 150 km (90 miles) west of the capital Port-au-Prince.
By early morning, Grace, which had been forecast to dump up to 15 inches (38 cm) of rain on some areas, was moving into Jamaica, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Rescue workers have been digging alongside residents through the rubble in a bid to reach bodies, though few voice hope of finding anyone alive. A smell of dust and decomposing bodies permeates the air.
“We came from all over to help: from the north, from Port-au Prince, from everywhere,” said Maria Fleurant, a firefighter from northern Haiti.
Emergency workers pulled a bloodstained pillow from the rubble on Monday night, followed by the corpse of a 3-year-old boy who appeared to have died in his sleep during the earthquake.
Shortly after, as the rain intensified, the workers left.
With about 37,312 houses destroyed by the quake, according to Haitian authorities, and many of those still unexcavated, the death toll is expected to rise.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was sworn in less then a month ago after Moise’s assassination, vowed to disburse humanitarian aid better than in the wake of the 2010 quake.
Though billions of dollars in aid money poured into Haiti after that quake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, many Haitians say they saw scant benefits from the uncoordinated efforts: government bodies remained weak, amid persistent shortages of food and basic goods.
“The earthquake is a great misfortune that happens to us in the middle of the hurricane season,” Henry told reporters, adding that the government would not repeat “the same things” done in 2010.