November 1, 2016

Hurricane Matthew Blasts Haiti, Cuba, Bahamas and South Coast of US

Matthew was so large that it covered Haiti completely

By Gregor Hodgson, PhD Executive Director, Reef Check

By September 30th, NOAA models indicated that Hurricane Matthew would likely bash the western end of Haiti where six Reef Check staff are based in the city of Les Cayes. With measured wind speeds of 164 mph (264 kph), Matthew briefly reached Category 5 status, and was the most powerful hurricane in the Caribbean since Hurricane Felix in 2007. On October 2, I requested all our staff to evacuate to the capital Port Au Prince. Despite the efforts of Haiti Civil Defense to warn people, it has been 50 years since a storm this intense has hit western Haiti so there was no memory of how bad this could be. Many people also fear losing their possessions if they leave their homes, so few evacuated. But with predictions of up to 40 inches (101 cm) of rain, 40 foot (12 m) swells, and an 11 ft (3.3 m) storm surge, this was a big mistake for coastal dwellers.

The hurricane was so large and slow moving that it rained heavily for 24 hours before the eye hit Les Anglais (west of Les Cayes) at 6 am local time on October 4. This caused rivers to flood, bridges to be destroyed, and by then all communications were already down for the entire western end of Haiti.

Matthew moved slowly, and almost directly north across the southern peninsula with the eye passing out to sea near BonBon, a fishing village where Reef Check works, and located west of the city of Jeremie. Heavy rain and hurricane force winds (145 mph) continued for more than 36 hours. The Laguerre family is one we work with near Jeremie. Because their house was only 50 m from the sea we urged them by text to evacuate. Unfortunately, they waited until their roof started to lift off at about 6 pm, so that they were forced to run in the dark, repeatedly being knocked down and rolled by 90 mph winds until they reached a relative’s house on higher ground. Luckily, they were not injured by flying debris such as steel roofing sheets and coconut trees.

Our student Diana and family now live at a school next to their former home

Landslides, flooding from rain, waves and storm surge, and intense winds killed over 1000 people and left about 1 million without a roof or house. Cash crops such as cacao and coffee were completely destroyed. Family gardens, banana, mango and papaya trees were flattened, and goats, cows, and chickens killed, leaving people with little food. Many schools lost roofs and walls.

Reef Check is not a relief agency, but we quickly realized that the large relief agencies were not very familiar with the remote coastal areas affected by the hurricane and did not have local contacts. So we helped to advise USAID’s emergency DART team how to get food and supplies to these communities, some of which are only accessible by boat. Working with our partners at the United Nations Environment agency, we agreed to focus on short-term relief efforts to provide much needed solar powered EkoTek LED lights and some food directly to our students and fishermen. Many thanks go out to the Reef Check supporters who generously donated to the relief efforts.

Haitians are incredibly resilient and will rebuild. Once the immediate humanitarian crisis has passed we will send a team to re-survey the best reef in Haiti. Reefs = food.

For video of Port Salut and Chardoniere see:

The tops were ripped off most trees…   Floods…
Homes, schools, hotels destroyed All that is left of Reposoir hotel, P. Salut Flying sheet metal ripped off roofs…
See through restaurant, Pt Sable Boats were destroyed RC SUV hit by flying tree inside carport
Lots of debris… Photo: P. Laguerre After Matthew, rivers deliver a lot of mud to the sea and reefs Camping out… Photo: P. Laguerre