Tropical Storm Grace drenching earthquake-stricken Haiti

Tropical Storm Grace drenching earthquake-stricken Haiti

Tropical Storm Grace swept over Haiti with drenching rain just two days after a powerful earthquake battered the impoverished Caribbean nation, forcing overwhelmed hospitals and rescuers to act quickly and adding to the misery of thousands who lost loved ones, suffered injuries or found themselves homeless.

After nightfall, heavy rain and strong wind whipped at the country’s southwestern area, which was hit hardest by Saturday’s magnitude 7.2 quake. Officials warned that rainfall could reach 15 inches in some areas before the storm moved on. Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, also saw heavy rain.

Grace regained tropical storm status after previously falling to the level of a tropical depression. The storm arrived in Haiti on the same day that the country’s Civil Protection Agency raised the death toll from the earthquake to 1,419 and the number of injured to 6,000, many of whom have had to wait for medical help lying outside in wilting heat.

Grace’s rain and wind raised the threat of mudslides and flash flooding as it slowly passed by southwestern Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula overnight, before heading toward Jamaica and southeastern Cuba on Tuesday.

The quake nearly wrecked some towns in the southwest in the latest disaster to befall the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Haitians already were struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, gang violence, worsening poverty and the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.

“We are in an exceptional situation,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry told reporters Monday afternoon as the storm approached.

A hospital in the badly damaged town of Les Cayes was so crowded with patients after the earthquake that many had to lie in patios, corridors, verandas and hallways, but the approaching storm had officials scrambling to relocate them as best they could.

“We had planned to put up tents [in hospital patios], but we were told that could not be safe,” said Gede Peterson, director of Les Cayes General Hospital.

It is not the first time the hospital has been forced to improvise. The refrigeration in the hospital’s morgue has not worked for three months, but after the earthquake struck Saturday, staff had to store as many as 20 bodies in the small space. Relatives quickly came to take most to private embalming services or for immediate burial. By Monday, only three bodies were in the morgue.

“We are working now to ensure that the resources we have are going to get to the places that are hardest-hit,” said Civil Protection Agency head Jerry Chandler, referring to the towns of Les Cayes and Jeremie and the department of Nippes.

Quake victims continued to stream to Les Cayes’ overwhelmed general hospital, waiting on stair steps, in corridors and on an open veranda.

“After two days, they are almost always generally infected,” said Dr. Paurus Michelete, who had treated 250 patients and was one of only three doctors on call when the quake hit. He added that painkillers and steel pins to mend fractures were running out.

Meanwhile, rescuers and scrap metal scavengers dug into the floors of a collapsed hotel where 15 bodies had already been extracted. Jean Moise Fortune, whose brother, the hotel owner and a prominent politician, was killed in the quake, believed there were more people trapped in the rubble.

But based on the size of voids that workers cautiously peered into, perhaps a foot in depth, finding survivors appeared unlikely.

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As work, fuel and money ran out, desperate Les Cayes residents searched collapsed houses for scrap metal to sell. Others waited for money wired from abroad, a mainstay of Haiti’s economy even before the quake.

Anthony Emile waited six hours in a line with dozens of others trying to get money that his brother had wired from Chile, where he has worked since the 2010 quake that devastated Haiti’s capital and killed tens of thousands.

“We have been waiting since morning for it, but there are too many people,” said Emile, a banana farmer who said relatives in the countryside depend on him for money to survive.

In Jeremie, Police Commissioner Paul Menard denied a social media report about looting.

“If it were going to happen, it would have been on the first or second night,” Menard said.

Officials said the earthquake left more than 7,000 homes destroyed and nearly 5,000 damaged, leaving some 30,000 families homeless. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches also were destroyed or badly damaged.

Josil Eliophane, 84, crouched on the steps of Les Cayes General Hospital, clutching an X-ray showing his shattered arm bone and pleading for pain medication. Michelete said he would give one of his few remaining shots to Eliophane, who ran out of his house as the quake hit, only to have a wall fall on him.

Nearby, on the hospital’s open-air veranda, patients lay on beds and mattresses, hooked up to IV bags of saline fluid. Others lay in the garden under bed sheets erected to shield them from the sun. None of the patients or relatives caring for them wore face masks despite a coronavirus surge.

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