North America

Haiti still recovering from 2016 hurricane and not equipped for Irma: Australian aid worker


Australian aid worker Ascension Martinez spoke to SBS World News about how the struggling island nation of Haiti would cope with Hurricane Irma, only 11 months after their last natural disaster.

With devastating winds reaching 290km/h Hurricane Irma has slammed the northeast Caribbean islands of Barbuda, Saint Martin, and the British and US Virgin Islands killing at least 10 people and flattening towns.

As rain intensifies and flooding begins on the small island of Haiti, Australian aid worker Ascension Martinez talked about the impact another storm could have on a struggling nation that has not fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Ms Ascension said the potential damage the Category 5 storm could wreak on the north of the island is worrying with infrastructure in Haiti not equipped to deal with the possible floods and landslides.

Residents evacuate Florida as Irma looms
Residents evacuate Florida as Irma looms

“The latest news we are getting in now from the north in particular, where the heavier rain has started, is there is already flooding in the far north parts of the country,” Ms Ascension told SBS World News from Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince.

“We are not hearing a lot of wind issues at this point in time and they are still saying it will hit later today.

“With the rain will come flooding and with flooding could come landslides, because this country has a very poor environmental habitat. The mountains are all bare and people live in very dangerous places due to the poverty.”

Ms Ascension, working with Save the Children, said hundreds and thousands of families living in precarious infrastructure or poverty at sea level would be affected if severe flooding was to hit the north of the country.

Video shows devastation to St Martin
Video shows devastation to St Martin

Haiti is still recovering from when Hurricane Matthew devastated the small Caribbean island killing hundreds of people and destroying livelihoods in October 2016.

“The main concern here is heavy rain and people living in poor housing areas, low-lying areas, in areas that a prone to flooding,” she said.

“Also the loss of livelihoods with crops gone and people’s livelihoods at risk of disappearing again.

“Any disturbance to what is their livelihood, and here most of the population live off the little businesses, any loss of business means they have very little to fall back on.”

She said in the capital, Port-au-Prince, depending on the strength of the hurricane, most of the population that live in poverty will be affected.

Hurricane Irma
A few Saint Maarten homes remain intact in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. (AAP)

“What we’ve done is we have schools and clinics in various places we support. What we will be doing is we have contact numbers for these people and we will be ringing them as off tomorrow [Friday] morning,” she said.

“We will be calling our contacts and staff in the field to see what the situation is and then linking to our regional offices in Panama and our headquarters in London to see exactly what we need.

“You are never really equipped to handle these things. We can support the government initiatives and support what we know, but you never really seem to have the stocks to respond.

Hurricane Irma
People pick up the remains of a home after the crossing of Hurricane Irma in Nagua, Dominican Republic.

“That is why we are doing so much work here on disaster risk reduction trying get people to build better and build in safer places. All of those things to get a better outcome.”

The National Hurricane Center said Irma still remained a Category 5 storm, despite winds dipping on Thursday.

Irma is expected to head towards Florida as a potential Category 4 hurricane by the time it reaches on Sunday.

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