One year ago today, on Oct. 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, resulting in almost $2 billion U.S. worth of damage and the deaths of an estimated 546 people. This year, America has seen the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma along our coast. Then, Hurricane Maria devastated multiple Caribbean Island nations, including Puerto Rico. Lives have been lost, homes destroyed, plans ruined. But how much harder is it for people just an hour and a half flight off of our border to prepare for a hurricane like Matthew? Here’s a look at how a Haitian family might prepare for a hurricane or a similar natural disaster and what the effects of that storm might be in the short and long term.
Before the Hurricane
Many Haitians would find out about hurricanes like Hurricane Matthew from the radio or word of mouth. Hurricane Matthew was not originally predicted to hit Haiti as hard, so many people would not have known to prepare for such a catastrophic storm. But those that did know to prepare would have been sure first to tie up any livestock they owned in their yards or on higher ground. Depending on the location of a family’s house, a family facing a hurricane might even evacuate to higher ground with their livestock. Those fortunate enough to have a tin roof would have to put tires on their roofs to prevent them from flying away. Families would try to waterproof their houses as well as possible, using any materials available. Any perishable food items would be eaten or sold as quickly as possible to prevent loss. Crops like banana plants or coconut trees would be braced for the high winds. School is often canceled during hurricanes, so children would be home, missing out on their education, helping their families prepare in any way possible. And when all preparations were made, they would do what any of us do when facing an approaching storm: wait.
During the Hurricane
When Hurricane Matthew hit, many families ended up evacuating during the storm due to flash flooding. Since all flood water is considered black water, this put any expectant mothers wading through contaminated water at risk for premature delivery, causing even higher infant mortality rates. Cholera also spread during this time because of the contaminated water. Even mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, malaria, chikungunya or dengue fever would increase in the aftermath of a hurricane like Matthew because standing pools of water would allow mosquitoes to breed in areas they wouldn’t normally affect. Small farms were wiped out across the country. And can you imagine what type of escape anyone with a physical or mental handicap would be able to make in the face of a storm? On the mountainsides, flash flooding and mudslides would claim the lives of anything in their path.
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