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Tropical Storm Follows Massive Earthquake as Haiti Struggles to Help Victims

A tropical storm piled into Haiti Monday and early Tuesday, with the country still reeling from a massive, 7.2-magnitude earthquake Saturday that was last reported to have killed more than 1,400 people and injured at least 6,000.

“Grace dumped up to 10 inches of rain before being upgraded from depression to tropical storm early Tuesday, creating yet another crisis for exhausted, newly homeless people who needed shelter,” the Washington Post reported early Tuesday.

“We’re pleading for help,” said Marie-Helene L’Esperance, mayor of the harbour town of Pestel. “Every house was destroyed, there’s nowhere to live, we need shelters, medical help, and especially water. We’ve had nothing for three days and injured victims are starting to die.”

In a part of the country last shattered by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the Post says the earthquake damaged or collapsed schools, medical centres, churches, bridges, and more than 84,000 homes, 11 years after a previous devastating quake hit the capital of Port-au-Prince. The news story goes into the multiple social, economic, and political challenges the country is facing simultaneously.

Grace is already the seventh storm in what is expected to be a busy Atlantic hurricane season, and one of three facing the region simultaneously, the New York Times writes. When the third in the series, Tropical Storm Henri, formed off the eastern United States Monday, most of the country’s attention was still on the first, Tropical Depression Fred, which hit the Florida Panhandle Monday afternoon.

“While it is not uncommon for there to be several active weather systems at once during hurricane season, forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said, it is somewhat unusual to have three with tropical storm watches or warnings for land areas at the same time,” the Times reports. 

The series of storms comes at a time when “the links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms—though the overall number of storms could drop, because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.”

In his excellent The Long Version newsletter, U.S. journalist Jonathan Myerson Katz—who survived the 2010 earthquake, then wrote an acclaimed and highly critical book about the recovery effort—says the underlying dangers facing Haiti have remained unchanged since. For years, he writes, he’s been telling anyone who asks that “homes and buildings are still built unsafely for a seismic zone. There are still no improved social or emergency services. The roads suck. Nothing got ‘built back better’. If the same earthquake struck again at the same place on the same fault line, it would be the same catastrophe all over again.”

Now—11 years, seven months, and two days later—another, even stronger quake has hit a different part of the country. On the surface, that was “a deeply lucky break for the Haitian people on a national scale,” since one-third of the country’s population lives in or near the capital. 

“That position was extraordinarily unlucky, however, for the people of the smaller cities on the far end of Haiti’s southern peninsula including Les Cayes (often referred to as Aux Cayes or Okay) and Jérémie,” places that are “still reeling” from Matthew and the acute food shortage that followed. “Thanks to the wanton insecurity of the past few months, the roads to those cities had been effectively cut off from the capital, which (due in large part to the history of U.S. occupations of Haiti, *cough* *cough*) is the only place where people can access commerce, international trade, and political power at scale. Those places have now been further crushed,” he writes.

Myerson Katz expresses the “long-simmering rage” that “we had told the world that this had happened and could easily happen again, and yet nothing changed.”