USAID Personnel Preparing Haiti for Approaching Storm

By Stephen Kaufman

Staff Writer

Washington - The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has 20 members of a disaster assistance response team (DART) on the ground in Haiti to help prepare the country for the tropical storm Tomas, which is moving toward the country and could regain hurricane-level strength after devastating Saint Lucia, south of the island of Hispaniola.

State Department Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley said November 2 that the team members, nine of whom were dispatched from the United States on November 1, were sent to "prepare the ground for the storm" by helping the Haitian government "mitigate potential damage through canal clearing and drainage channel preparation, and providing information to the Haitian people."

According to news reports, up to 1.3 million people are living in tents in camps that were set up after the country's January 12 earthquake and would be at special risk from the storm's heavy winds, rainfall and landslides.

Crowley said the DART team will also help Haitian authorities provide information to Haitians as to when they should seek safer shelter in such structures as community centers and churches and with relatives living in sounder structures, as well as providing information on where safer locations can be found.

USAID sends its rapidly deployable DART teams around the world in response to major disasters. The teams are usually made up of specialists trained in a variety of relief skills who assess the situation on the ground and notify their headquarters in Washington on what is needed. A DART team was first deployed to Haiti one day after the earthquake struck to identify priority needs and priority aid commodities. More recently, a team was sent in response to the cholera epidemic to facilitate the sharing of information and provide coordination among humanitarian agencies, according to an October 28 press release from the U.S. Embassy in Port au Prince.

Tomas struck the island of Saint Lucia on October 30 with winds of 150 kilometers per hour, making the storm a Category 1 hurricane. According to Agence France Press (AFP), at least 12 people were killed and as much as $100 million worth of the island's banana crop was destroyed. The storm later weakened and is currently classified as a tropical storm, but is expected to regain strength before reaching Haiti.

"We expect that it will begin to have an effect on Haiti on Thursday," Crowley said.

According to Martin Nesirky, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman, humanitarian groups are continuing to prepare by dispatching supplies to key areas across the country, including those that are expected to face the brunt of the storm.

On November 1, Nigel Fisher, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, and other U.N. personnel visited vulnerable areas of the country to evaluate emergency preparedness measures, and preparations are also being made in camps for internally displaced persons, Nesirky told reporters November 2.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)