Preparing for the storm

Hurricane Matthew may have been downgraded to a category 4 tropical storm but, with persistent winds of up to 150mph expected, Jamaica, Cuba and especially Haiti in the Caribbean are getting ready for potential disaster with both flooding and mudslides predicted in the wake of the storm.  Storm shelters are being erected, water and supplies are being gathered, the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison on Cuba has evacuated non-essential personnel and emergency services are on standby. Matthew is expected to make landfall this evening (Sunday 2nd Oct) and our thoughts are with the people of Jamaica, Cuba and especially Haiti, still recovering from the 2010 earthquake, which is likely to be worst hit:  Hurricane Matthew

Tuesday evening update: Haiti badly hit: while official figures have yet to emerge it appears that, as feared, the far west of Haiti has been badly hit by strong winds (Tues 4th), heavy rains and a large storm surge with homes destroyed and at least some fatalities after people refused to evacuate their homes in fear of being robbed in their absence. It is likely that the secondary effects of the storm (disease and homelessness) will cause growing problems over the next few days and weeks. As Matthew moves North, Cuba is next to be hit…

Thursday update: the Thursday death toll is already over 100 for Haiti alone. Access to the area most affected has been limited by the collapse of a vital bridge and rescue services have been unable to access those most severely affected. Poorly constructed shanty dwellings have been worst hit and thousands have been left homeless and without access to electricity or clean water. There is now a real risk of further loss of life from disease and exposure although relief convoys are now making their way into the region.

Although Matthew has now been downgraded to a Grade 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale, winds are still over 115mph and moving towards Florida where mandatory and voluntary evacuations began 24 hours ago.

Friday update: the scale of devastation is slowly being revealed as access to the worst-hit regions of Haiti is increasing. The death toll has reached over 800 but looks likely to increase; another tragedy for Haiti, still recovering from its 2010 earthquake: Friday update

Sunday 9th: despite being downgraded to category 1, hurricane Matthew has by no means spent all its energy. The US death toll stands at 10 after floods and strong winds battered the Florida and South Carolina coast: Matthew reaches the US

In the meantime, Haiti is slowly coming to terms with the scale of the disaster with the death toll standing (currently) at over 900 with more than 300,000 left homeless. But the greatest risk now is cholera with several deaths already reported. Diseases such as cholera are often a secondary effect of natural disasters, especially flooding. Stagnant floodwaters mix with raw sewage and form a lethal cocktail of bacteria and disease. Without clean drinking water the situation in Haiti is becoming desperate and aid agencies are trying to move in quickly to prevent a severe outbreak. However, nearly a week after the hurricane struck, some areas are still inaccessible except by air.

The huge tragedy of the cholera threat is that this disease was only introduced to Haiti by UN aid workers after the 2010 earthquake. Since then there have been a heart-breaking 10,000 deaths from cholera. And while cholera is fast acting it can be treated if given medical attention early enough. However, like too many LEDCs, Haiti has neither the infrastructure not the funds to provide adequate medical care and the fatality rate is therefore very high. The eye of the storm may have passed but the reality is, for Haiti, its effects are ongoing.

A time of great mourning has begun in Haiti, compounded by the reality that there is little real hope for change and improvement on the horizon: Tragedy deepens for Haiti

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