Hopes for quake survivors dwindle as storm lashes Haiti

A woman affected by Saturday's earthquake recovers her belongings under the rain of Tropical Depression Grace at a refugee camp in Les Cayes, Haiti, Aug 16, 2021. (JOSEPH ODELYN / AP)

LES CAYES – Heavy rains lashed Haiti on Tuesday night, complicating rescue efforts and drenching thousands left homeless by a devastating earthquake that killed at least 1,419 people, as hopes dimmed for survivors.

Tropical Depression Grace churned over the regions of southwest Haiti worst-hit by Saturday’s quake of magnitude 7.2, whipping devastated towns with high winds and torrential rains, causing flooding in at least one area.

The earthquake brought down tens of thousands of buildings in the poorest country in the Americas, which is still recovering from a major quake 11 years ago that killed more than 200,000 people.

As hopes began to dim of finding significant numbers of survivors among the wreckage, the storm impeded rescuers in the seaside city of Les Cayes, about 150 km west of the capital Port-au-Prince, which bore the brunt of the quake

The latest disaster comes just over a month after Haiti was plunged into political turmoil by the assassination of President Jovenel Moise on July 7.

Several major hospitals were severely damaged, hampering humanitarian efforts, as were the focal points of many shattered communities, such as churches and schools.

READ MORE: Haiti hospitals overwhelmed by quake victims as toll hits 1,297

Haitian authorities said on Monday that 1,419 deaths had been confirmed, with some 6,900 people injured.

As hopes began to dim of finding significant numbers of survivors among the wreckage, the storm impeded rescuers in the seaside city of Les Cayes, about 150 km west of the capital Port-au-Prince, which bore the brunt of the quake.

The storm is expected to dump up to 15 inches of water on parts of Haiti, creating a risk of flash floods, according to the US National Hurricane Centre.

Rescue workers from across Haiti were digging alongside residents through the rubble on Monday evening in a bid to reach bodies, though few voiced hope of finding anyone alive. A smell of dust and decomposing bodies permeated the air.

“We came from all over to help: from the north, from Port-au Prince, from everywhere,” said Maria Fleurant, a firefighter from northern Haiti.

This RAMMB National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) satellite handout image shows storm activity over Haiti (right) on 19:00 UTC on Aug 16, 2021 in the Caribbean.
(HANDOUT/ RAMMB/NOAA/NESDIS / AFP)

As heavy rain began to fall, emergency workers pulled a blood-stained pillow from under the rubble, followed by the corpse of a three-year-old boy who appeared to have died in his sleep during the earthquake.

Shortly after, as the rain intensified, the workers left.

Toll expected to rise

With about 37,312 houses destroyed by the quake, according to Haitian authorities, and many of those still unexcavated, the death toll is expected to rise.

Vital Jaenkendy, who watched as a bulldozer shifted rubble from his collapsed apartment building, said eight residents had died and four were missing.

Jaenkendy and others have been sleeping under a tarpaulin on a dirt road nearby, and were hunkering down for the rains.

“When the storm comes, we’ll take shelter in car ports of the houses nearby, just until it passes, and then we’ll return to our place in the road,” he said.

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Doctors in battled makeshift tents outside hospitals to save the lives of hundreds of injured, including young children and the elderly.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was sworn in less then a month ago after Moise’s assassination, vowed to disburse humanitarian aid better than in the wake of the 2010 quake.

Though billions of dollars in aid money poured into Haiti after that quake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, many Haitians say they saw scant benefits from the uncoordinated efforts: government bodies remained weak, amid persistent shortages of food and basic goods.

“The earthquake is a great misfortune that happens to us in the middle of the hurricane season,” Henry told reporters, adding that the government would not repeat “the same things” done in 2010.