Haiti - Hurricane Tomas, November 8, 2010

After Hurricane Tomas moved away from Haiti on Friday, it left the center of the city of Léogâne flooded, with the depth of water as high as three feet in places. Many of those who have been living in tents since the January 2010 earthquake lost their shelters and their belongings. As many as 20,000 people have been affected.

Staff from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance's (PDA) partners and fellow members of ACT Alliance made a visit to Léogâne following the hurricane and found hundreds of people roaming the streets, looking for food, water and anything that could help make a new shelter.

Maxim Toussaint, 39, spoke about his experience of the floods: "We don't know how to swim so we were very scared of dying in the floodwaters. We were scared of being washed away because there was nothing we could do."

Rain from the hurricane caused the river to rise dramatically, causing a change in direction from its usual course as the volume of water forced it way through the river channel. The river broke its banks, and there are unconfirmed reports that some people died.

"I heard the sound of the river and realized what was happening. I knew it wasn't safe to be there so I ran away" said Sévére Jean Esaïe, 19. His house was damaged, and he is now sheltering with his family under a piece of canvas in the streets.

Immediately after the flooding the Department for Civil Protection evacuated people into three schools close by. Many people were aware of the dangers, having received text messages on their mobile phones and information from the radio. Those who were able to do so had already left the area.

Many people are now trying to start the cleanup operation, using brooms and shovels to remove the worst of the thick mud. However, the main concern is that the flooding could result in an outbreak of cholera, with people forced to drink contaminated water and lacking access to basic sanitation.

PDA's partners are carrying out needs assessments. Two fellow ACT Alliance members, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Finn Church Aid (FCA), are using their knowledge of the local schools and their relationships with the communities to help with the effort.

However, FCA country representative David Korpela says, "it is extremely hard to give an accurate picture of the number of people affected at this time, as many communities are still cut off by the floodwaters. Our prevention work against cholera is now one of our main priorities, and our on-going work will focus on aiming to reduce this risk."

FCA has ordered 8 million water purification tablets for distributing through local schools, plus jerry cans, buckets with lids, and soap. They are also providing information for school children and communities on hand washing and basic hygiene practices.

It would seem that Léogâne has had its fair share of disasters this year. As Maxim Toussaint says, "2010 was a year of trials for us here." It was the town nearest the center of the earthquake and now is one of the most flooded after Hurricane Tomas. PDA's partners and co-members of ACT Alliance members in Léogâne are now concentrating their efforts on preventative measures to ensure that cholera does not become the third major disaster this town experiences this year.

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Information for the above report was provided by Susan Barry and Maria Halava in Haiti. Susan Barry is ACT Alliance member Christian Aid's Communications and Information Officer, and Maria Halava of Finn Church Aid is currently ACT Alliance's Media Coordinator in Haiti.