Haiti Faces Cholera Threat as Matthew Storms Through U.S. Southeast
An estimated thousand people were dead, 1.4 million were in need of humanitarian assistance, tens of thousands were homeless, and cholera was spreading through the southeastern part of the country as Haiti began burying some of its dead in mass graves in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
In the United States, Matthew killed at least 18 people, more than half of them in North Carolina, while causing major damage along the country’s southeast coast. An initial estimate placed the cost at US$4 to $6 billion, as the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported the country had seen 12 weather disasters this year that exceeded $1 billion in damage.
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The worst hurricane in a nearly decade hit Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, with torrential rains and 233-kilometre-per-hour (145-mile-per-hour) winds, and cholera is the next concern, Reuters reports: The disease “can kill within hours if untreated. It is spread through contaminated water and has a short incubation period, which leads to rapid outbreaks.”
“Due to massive flooding and its impact on water and sanitation infrastructure, cholera cases are expected to surge after Hurricane Matthew and through the normal rainy season until the start of 2017,” the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) stated.
Earlier, Reuters reported that “rural clinics overflowed with patients whose wounds including broken bones had not been treated since the storm hit.” Food was scarce, and in many villages “the storm razed homes to their foundations. The corrugated metal roofs of those still standing were ripped off, the contents visible from above as if peering into doll’s houses.”
“We flew over parts of the Grand’Anse region. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe,” said government official Frenel Kedner, from the town of Jeremie in southwest Haiti. “The people urgently need food, water, medicine.”
By Monday, six days after the storm hit, “Haitian authorities were still unsure of the extent of the disaster, with some communities still cut off,” CBC reports. “But tens of thousands of homes were obliterated and the dead number in the hundreds.” In Jeremie, “the sound of hammering could be heard on nearly every street,” and one 22-year-old storm refugee said he was receiving about a dollar a day for reconstruction work.
“There will be lots and lots of jobs since so many homes were knocked down,” he said. “I’ve been working for the last three days straight.”
But an 85-year-old refugee in the town of Chantal had a far more dire story, after her home was flattened and her husband was killed. “This is the worst thing to ever happen to our town,” she told the Washington Post. “There is nothing left to live on. Our trees and our crops are gone.”
In the U.S., “Hurricane Matthew’s rains triggered severe flooding in North Carolina on Sunday as the deteriorating storm made its exit to the sea, and thousands of people had to be rescued from their homes and cars,” CBC reports. “The storm was stripped of hurricane status just before daybreak, but the crisis—set off by more than a foot of rain—was far from over,” as rivers and creeks overflowed and people were trapped up to 160 kilometres inland.
In Florida, Matthew “reduced Florida’s scenic Atlantic Coast Highway—the economic lifeline of the state’s small beach towns—to an impassable pile of concrete and asphalt rubble after the powerful storm surge washed away sand dunes and earth supporting the roadway,” according to The Post. “While most of the state, which reported four storm-related deaths, escaped the most dire predictions of the hurricane’s potential wreckage, it left many communities along a 35-mile strip of the northeast coast in shambles.”
And that was without a direct hit—until the storm made landfall north of Charleston, South Carolina, it “mercifully stayed just far enough out at sea that coastal communities didn’t feel the full force of Matthew’s winds,” CBC notes. “As the storm passed one city after another, the reaction was relief that things were nowhere near as bad as many feared.”
On Friday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration warned of possible disruptions to energy infrastructure along the storm’s path. “Thousands of customers are already without power,” the agency stated. “Although there are no petroleum refineries or natural gas processing plants along the East Coast from Florida to Maryland, some product terminals could be affected, potentially reducing energy imports.”
For climate scientist Andrea Dutton, who teaches geology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, the question was whether Matthew would be a wake-up call to the risks of severe weather and sea level rise associated with climate change.
“Matthew can help to change the conversation, in the way that Katrina did in New Orleans,” she told National Geographic. “When all these cities were developed, sea level was very stable. Our whole way of life is set up around the concept of having a stable coastline. We are entering a new normal. We need to redefine our relationship with the coastline, and that means rethinking a lot of different things.”