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Red Cross Witness to Destruction in Haiti
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Leslie A. Smith
September 9, 2008

Already battered by two storms in recent weeks—Gustav and Hanna—Haiti is again dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane, as Ike passed by the island as a brutal Category 4 storm. The successive, huge amounts of rain have flooded cities and farmland, washed out roads and bridges, and pushed the island nation to the edge of a humanitarian crisis.   

This year's hurricane season has caused massive floods in Haiti, creating a humanitarian crisis.  Matthew Marek/American Red Cross.
This year's hurricane season has caused massive floods in Haiti, creating a humanitarian crisis. Matthew Marek/American Red Cross.

American Red Cross staff have seen the devastation firsthand.

“I remember the criss-crossing streets of water and people wading through them—and seeing half of the town and all of their fields under water, an unbelievable amount of water. The impact is huge,” said Matt Marek, American Red Cross Head of Programs in Haiti, after taking part in aerial damage assessments.

An estimated 800,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and the death toll is reportedly in the hundreds. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti’s population was already dealing with the hardships of day-to-day life, including an ongoing food crisis. In a matter of weeks, this hurricane season has made life that much harder.

The massive floods have cut off many parts of the country. The main road to Gonaives, Haiti’s third-largest city, has been cut off by a newly-formed lake—water that collected in the valley during the torrential rains. Reaching people who are in desperate need of food and clean water is presenting a huge challenge. Currently, the only way into Gonaives is by air, but helicopters are scarce in Haiti. 

Supporting the Haitian National Red Cross Society and other international partners, the American Red Cross sent a disaster relief specialist to coordinate the response activities immediately after Hurricane Gustav passed.

As Hanna neared Haiti, and with Ike looming in the distance, an American Red Cross Relief Emergency Response Unit (ERU) also deployed with two additional responders.  The team has joined with one delegate from the Belgium Red Cross and one from the Netherlands Red Cross and is assisting with assessments and distribution of essential relief supplies.

Now, the American Red Cross is mobilizing relief supplies—hygiene kits, buckets, mosquito nets, tarps and kitchen sets—from its pre-positioned stocks in Panama to assist 3,000 families affected by the storms.

“It’s a very difficult, complex situation because people have lost all of their belongings. There’s a big need for food, and tensions are rising, especially where humanitarian aid has not been able to reach yet,” said Colin Chaperon of the Relief ERU, stationed in Haiti.

The rain has stopped for the moment, and with it, the relief aid so desperately needed can finally move out of the capital of Port-au-Prince to where it’s needed most. 

You can help the victims of countless crises around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate relief and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance and other support to help those in need. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation by either contacting 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish), or mailing your donation with the designation to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or to your local American Red Cross chapter. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.

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