Death toll in Haiti soar to above 800

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PORT AU PRINCE, HAITI (CARIBUPDATE/Oct 7, 2016) – Unfortunately the news from here is grim. Thousands of homeless people walking around dazed; people quickly running out of food and water. Some places still difficult to reach.

Here, the tough task of trying to put together shattered lives are starting all over again; the living having little time and energy to mourn their dead.

The death toll in Haiti as a result of Hurricane Matthew - the most powerful Caribbean storm in a decade - has soared to more than 800, officials say.

Some 50 people were reported killed in the town of Roche-a-Bateau alone.

The nearby city of Jeremie saw 80% of its buildings levelled. In Sud province 30,000 homes were destroyed.

The death toll, announced by Interior Ministry officials, rose sharply as some of the hardest-hit regions, cut off as a result of damaged roads and the collapse of a major bridge, became slowly accessible.

Dr. Charles-Patrick Almazor, chief medical officer in Haiti for the nonprofit Partners in Health, said he expects the death toll to rise. 

“There’s a lot of people in villages that we don’t even know about,” said Almazor, who said the hurricane was a painful blow for a country that has been struggling to rebuild since 2010’s devastating earthquake. 

“We keep saying that we are a resilient nation,” he said. “But I don’t know how much more we can take.”

The storm left a broad tableau of devastation: houses pummeled into timber, crops destroyed and stretches of towns and villages under several feet of water. In the southern city of Jérémie, 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed.

The numbers of known dead soared as officials and aid workers ventured deeper into areas cut off from rescue efforts in the south, discovering more bodies interred in flooded homes and streets. Until Thursday, there had been no connection to the south of the country — neither electronic nor physical, owing to severed phone lines and collapsed bridges.

“This is a very, very partial assessment of the damage and death,” said Annick Joseph, the country’s interior minister, during a news conference earlier in the day. Among other things, he added, dead were also being discovered in the mountains of the country, where communities are more isolated.

The sudden surge in numbers reflects, in some ways, the very nature of the many challenges that Haiti faces. The country’s infrastructure had been in decline for decades, even before the earthquake and other storms weakened it further. A fragile communications system, too, was unreliable even in the best of times.

These challenges and others are part of the reason the government so vastly underestimated the number of deaths, and why, many think, the number will continue to rise. More fundamentally, it meant that there was little the government was capable of doing to prepare — and to respond.

“That many people died because they never believed what the authorities told them when they said they had to evacuate,” said Jean Senozier Despreux, who lives and works in Les Cayes and weathered the storm there. “They resisted it.”

At least 28,000 homes have been damaged, according to Haitian government officials. TheUnited Nations said at least 350,000 people were in need of immediate aid. 

Aerial footage of Jeremie, a city of 31,000 on the northwestern coast of Haiti’s peninsula, showed hundreds of flattened houses and debris-strewn streets. In Les Cayes, a devastated port city on the southwestern coast, “almost every structure is damaged or destroyed,” said Margaret Traub, head of global initiatives with the aid group International Medical Corps.

Traub arrived in the city by helicopter Thursday because roads to the region had been washed out. She flew over miles of flattened farmland, where even large palm trees had been uprooted.

 “People are in need of food, clean water and shelter,” she said. “We’re especially worried about access to clean water, because we’re very concerned about diseases.”

Haiti had already been grappling with a cholera crisis; 27,000 cases of the potentially deadly waterborne disease have been reported so far this year. Almazor, the Haitian doctor, predicted that the rate of cholera infection will triple in the coming weeks. 

”We need help,” he said. “I’m worried.”

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