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Death toll climbs in Haiti as breadth of destruction from Hurricane Matthew emerges

By Oxfam
Residents of Truitiers, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Port au Prince, grapple with the flooding left by Hurricane Matthew. Photo by Fran Afonso

Lost harvests and flooding could leave families vulnerable to food and health crises.

With the death toll climbing in Haiti, reports now indicate that more than 800 people have lost their lives in the wake of powerful Hurricane Matthew that slammed into the Caribbean nation on Tuesday.

"We fear that the numbers are going to increase considerably as emergency teams advance,” said Jean Claude Fignole, program director of Oxfam in Haiti.

A category 4 hurricane when it hit, the storm brought winds of 145 miles per hour and flooding, destroying at least 29,000 homes in the departments of South and Grande Anse. Across southeastern Haiti vast areas are flooded and more people could lose their homes.

“What is most urgent now is to provide safe water to prevent disease, as well as food and essential supplies. In the longer term we fear a jump in cholera, and malnutrition due to crop loss. Mobilization of the international community in support of the Haitian people is urgently needed,” said Fignole.

Oxfam teams are beginning to distribute aid in the towns of Saint Louis du Sud, Maniche, Les Cayes and Cavaillon, which are among the most severely affected. Hygiene kits and water purification tablets to prevent diseases such as cholera or diarrhea,are being handed out, along with construction materials. Oxfam will also repair or install water tanks.

In Port-au-Prince, the capital severely damaged by a massive earthquake in 2010, many Haitians still living in camps lost scarce belongings as Matthew swept through. Many of the streets in poor neighborhoods there remain flooded.

"Children are going to fall sick because flooding causes epidemics,” said Jimmy Leys, who lives in one of those neighborhoods, Ti-Ayiti. “Some pregnant women are already ill. Diarrhea and malaria are diseases well known here."

Flooding also affected other parts of the city.

“If it had occurred in the middle of the night I would have lost my children,” said Marcele Duby, who lives in the Truitier neighborhood of the capital. “But it was broad daylight so I could save them. The water in the house was up to my waist. I was afraid because if the water had risen a little more, we couldn’t have done anything.”

Oxfam is calling on the international community to step in and support an immediate humanitarian response, working together with the Haitian government and local organizations.

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