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Friday 17 January 2020

At least 470 killed in hurricane-hit south-western area of Haiti

A boy stands on top of the hillside of town of Jeremie, Haiti, which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew (AP)
A boy stands on top of the hillside of town of Jeremie, Haiti, which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew (AP)

At least 470 people have died in one district of Haiti's hard-hit south-western region after Hurricane Matthew pummelled the area earlier this week.

Civil protection chief Fridnel Kedler said he expects that number to rise because authorities have not been able to reach two communities in the Grand-Anse area on the peninsula's northern tip.

The overall death toll remains unknown.

Officials are especially concerned about Grand-Anse. When the Category 4 Hurricane Flora hit Haiti in 1963, it killed as many as 8,000 people.

Amid the suffering, aid has begun pouring into the coastal town of Jeremie, where thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed and many people were running low on food and facing an increased risk for cholera.

Dozens of young Haitians came to the small airstrip along the coast to watch as a helicopter was unloaded with crates of food and water.

"My home is totally wrecked and I heard they were bringing food," said Richard David, 22, one of those who came to the airport. "I haven't had anything but water today and I'm hungry."

Saint-Victor Jeune, an official with the civil protection agency working in Beaumont, in the mountains on Jeremie's outskirts, said 82 bodies found by his team had not been recorded by authorities in the capital because of spotty communications.

Most appeared to have died from falling debris from the winds that tore through the area at 145mph on Tuesday.

"We don't have any contact with Port-au-Prince yet and there are places we still haven't reached," Mr Jeune said, as he and a team of agents in orange vests combed the area.

The storm left signs of devastation all around the south-western peninsula. Outside Jeremie, home after home was in ruins. Drew Garrison, a Haiti-based missionary who flew in on Friday, said several fishing villages were submerged and he could see bodies floating in the water.

"Anything that wasn't concrete was flattened," said Mr Garrison, whose organisation, Mission of Hope Haiti, based in Austin, Texas, was bringing in a barge loaded with emergency supplies on Saturday.

"There were several little fishing villages that just looked desolate, no life."

The Pan American Health Organisation and others warned of a surge in cholera cases because of the widespread flooding caused by Matthew.

Haiti's cholera outbreak has killed roughly 10,000 people and sickened more than 800,000 since 2010, when it was introduced into the country's biggest river from a UN base where Nepalese peacekeepers were deployed.

Sophia Cheresal, deputy medical coordinator of Doctors Without Borders in Haiti, said there were at least 18 cases of cholera at the Jeremie hospital.

"It's getting worse and probably some people are going to die."

UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien called the hurricane's damage a major blow to Haiti's reconstruction effort and the fight against cholera.

"We expect that homes, schools and cholera treatment facilities have been destroyed and that water systems, roads and bridges have been severely damaged," he said.

He also announced that the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund was releasing five million dollars (£4 million) to help Haiti. Earlier this week, the fund released a loan of eight million dollars (£6.4 million) to Unicef to scale up the response to the cholera epidemic.

Those killed in Haiti by Matthew included a woman and her six-year-old daughter who abandoned their flimsy home and headed to a nearby church to seek shelter, said Ernst Ais, mayor of the town of Cavaillon.

"On the way to the church, the wind took them," Mr Ais said.


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