Red Cross prepares as Hurricane Tomas approaches Haiti

The Red Cross is activating its emergency plans in Haiti, with Hurricane Tomas now widely expected to severely affect the country with strong winds and torrential rains over the coming days ,with the possibility of a direct hit on Friday or Saturday*.

"This is cause for serious concern," said Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), who is in Haiti this week. "We know from recent history that Haiti can be disproportionately vulnerable to hurricanes and tropical storms. And this is exacerbated by the fact that hundreds of thousands of people are still in camps as a result of January's earthquake."

The Red Cross has been preparing for the threat of a hurricane since February, and is now preparing to respond to Tomas. Emergency stocks for 17,000 families (85,000 people) are in Haiti and ready to be deployed to disaster-affected communities; supplies for a further 8,000 families (40,000 people) have been called in from the IFRC's regional logistics hub in Panama. Emergency response teams have also been placed on standby around the country.

"We are working closely with the government to ensure that our plans are coordinated," said Dr Michaèle Amédée Gédéon, President of the Haitian Red Cross Society.

As well as preparing to respond, the Red Cross has been supporting communities to better ready themselves for hurricanes and storms. Red Cross volunteers have reached tens of thousands of people living in dozens of camps through disaster preparedness projects.

Volunteers have worked with communities to help them dig drainage ditches, sandbag hillsides and create evacuation routes. In addition, Red Cross volunteers have provided emergency first-aid training, and handed out waterproof bags that contain safety messages and can be used to store and protect important documents.

Mitigation efforts have also been bolstered through innovative use of mass media. Millions of SMS have been relayed throughout the country, providing people with simple and accessible information on the steps they can take to minimize their risk. These important messages have further been relayed through weekly, national broadcasts of Radio Croix-Rouge haïtienne.

Concurrent cholera response

Preparations for Hurricane Tomas are happening at the same time as the Red Cross responds to the country's cholera outbreak. A first Red Cross cholera treatment centre (CTC) has been established in Arcahie, just north of Port-au-Prince. The global Red Cross network is on standby to support this operation. With Hurricane Tomas approaching, there are fears that the outbreak of cholera may be worsened by expected torrential rains.

Short video clips of Red Cross preparedness activities can be found at www.youtube.com/ifrc.

Broadcast quality b-roll, showing the disaster preparedness efforts of the Red Cross in Haiti can be accessed at www.ifrc.org/newsroom.

*See www.nhcnoaa.gov - predictions and models are likely to develop over the coming hours and days.

For further information, or to set up interviews, please contact:

in Haiti:

Matt Cochrane, communications coordinator, Tel: +509 3491 9813

in Panama:

Rodolfo Bergantino, communications officer, Tel: + 507 6670 7365

in Geneva:

Paul Conneally, Media and public relations manager, Tel: +41 79 308 9809