Haiti floods: first hand account of the devastation
MSF physician Evi Eggers describes reaching villages devastated by flooding.
1 June 2004
Currently MSF is only able to gain access to these regions by helicopter. Teams have managed to visit some of the devastated villages and provide assistance to the injured. In one village alone, over 200 people are missing. Future activities will include distribution of sheeting and materials for shelter as well as medical care.
Following heavy rainfalls on Sunday May 23, villages in the border region between Haiti and the Dominican Republic were flooded. The heaviest flooding occurred early the next morning, surprising people in their sleep. Many did not have the chance to escape.
Fond Verrettes, a Haitian village located on the edge of a small river and surrounded by mountains, was completely swept away by the floods. The river swelled enormously - over 500 meters wide. The village, located on the edge of a small river and surrounded by mountains ("Fond" literally means "bottom"), was completely flooded away. What were once houses and streets are now only fields of rocks. Over 200 people are missing, but only three bodies have been found so far. Many are thought to be buried under the rocks.
On May 25, an MSF logistician and driver tried to reach Fond Verrettes but, about 20 kilometers before they reached their destination, they found the road completely destroyed by the floods and they had to turn back. The next day an MSF medical doctor and logistician were able to reach the village by helicopter.
Only the houses on the hillsides remained intact. Villagers who managed to escape the flooding in the valley are now staying with family, with friends, or in an empty school and several other public buildings. According to villagers we spoke with, nobody is without shelter, although some are living with six or seven families to one house.
The road is blocked on either side, so no vehicles can reach Port au Prince or Jacmel. Some people from flood-affected villages are walking over 15 hours to Port au Prince, hoping to find shelter with relatives.
For drinkable water, villagers usually rely on a cistern or a spring in the valley, but the cistern is now damaged and unusable and the spring is flooded. People are putting out buckets and other containers to collect rainwater. Latrines are scarce. Nevertheless, no cases of diarrhea or typhoid fever have been reported so far.
There is a large health center on the hillside. Although the rooms are filled with mud, the building is not damaged. Usually two Cuban doctors and a resident nurse and doctor work in the health center, but they had left the village for the weekend and have not yet been able to return.
The MSF team saw the most urgent cases in the health center and donated a basic emergency kit for 1,000 people. About 30 people came, half with lacerations, cuts and bruises. One patient had an abscess in her breasts as she had stopped breastfeeding when she lost her baby in the flood. Others complained of headache, sleeplessness and loss of appetite. One girl had not spoken since the disaster. Almost everyone has one or more (up to six children for one man) relatives who are "lost".
On May 27, the same MSF team went to Mapou, a village described as "even worse off" than Fond Verrettes. This village is near the seaside and less mountainous. The MSF team travelled by helicopter as there is no access by road. Seeing the area from above, the team had an overview of large areas of the flooded landscape. Pieces of some roofs were visible, but many houses were completely covered.
The center of the village is partly intact, but the population is scattered and many people do not have access to the village. So far 69 people are reported dead or lost.
MSF tried to get to the health center located between the villages of Mapou and Pignon, but the road was flooded and a detour would take over 90 minutes. As the floods affect Pignon much less severely, the team decided to do consultations in a school in the center of Mapou. There is a very small stock of medication in the health center.
On May 28, an MSF logistician was scheduled to return to Mapou with plastic sheeting for shelter and medical supplies to prepare the school to treat patients. The folowing day, MSF teams were hoping to to reach Thiotte, another flood-affected village. MSF shall update information as it becomes available.