Emergency Response to Hurricane Matthew

by International Medical Corps
Emergency Response to Hurricane Matthew
The aftermath of Hurricane Matthew
The aftermath of Hurricane Matthew

On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall on the south-westernmost tip of Haiti as a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds of 145 miles per hour. The storm brought heavy rains of 15 to 25 inches with as many as 40 inches in isolated areas. A storm surge of up to ten feet crashed against the shore, levelling everything in its path.

To respond to the most urgent needs of the affected population, we deployed nine mobile medical teams to provide primary care. Each team included two physicians and two nurses, who were accompanied by hygiene staff, nutrition officers, and experts in gender-based violence prevention—depending on local needs. Between October 2016 and January 2017, our mobile teams conducted a total of 18,006 medical consultations, reaching even the most remote communities in southern Haiti.

In the aftermath of the devastating hurricane, the people of south-western Haiti faced a potentially worse tragedy: cholera. Cholera is an acute bacterial infection which causes severe vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration, and, if left untreated, can kill within hours. “Immediately following Hurricane Matthew, we were aware of the significant risk of an increase in cholera cases. The communities were only too aware of this as well, and there was a fear of a repeat of the huge cholera outbreaks of previous years,” explains Dr. Jude, the lead physician of our emergency response team.

Most cases of cholera can be linked to contaminated water, a common problem after natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. Dr. Jude says that, “Water pipes and pumps had been destroyed and waste water had been washed into rivers.” As the number of suspected cases began to rise, our teams established three cholera treatment centers at Les Anglais, Cavaillon and Aquin, plus three temporary satellite facilities. Through January 31, 2017, our staff admitted a total of 750 patients with acute diarrhea across these facilities. To prevent further spread of disease, our teams also provided hygiene kits and provided home-disinfection for the patients and close neighbors in their communities.

In more remote and mountainous regions, where there was little or no access to cholera treatment centers, we established 15 oral rehydration points—small, tented stations providing chlorinated handwashing and oral rehydration salts to quickly and safely alleviate symptoms. Dr. Jude recalls that, “Our water, sanitation and hygiene teams and health teams set about walking to villages in the mountains, along damaged mountain paths to find the sources of outbreaks that had been reported to the team.” By understanding the source of contamination, our teams helped prevent further infection.

In the weeks following Hurricane Matthew, we partnered with the government of Haiti and technical experts at the WHO and the CDC to conduct a one-dose oral cholera vaccination campaign to thwart the spread of cholera in the two departments most affected by the hurricane: Sud and Grand’Anse. This campaign—the largest ever conducted in the world—covered 16 communes and reached more than 735,000 men, women and children over one year of age.

We would like to thank the GlobalGiving community for supporting our teams throughout our emergency response to Hurricane Matthew. You have helped us save lives and inspire hope among people who lost their homes or their livelihoods—and even friends and family members.

Providing medical care to the people of Haiti
Providing medical care to the people of Haiti
Christine, a nurse treating cholera in Haiti
Christine, a nurse treating cholera in Haiti
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Marie helps prevent cholera in her community
Marie helps prevent cholera in her community

Marie did not expect the storm to be so powerful. With Hurricane Matthew bearing down on Haiti, she gathered her children and huddled inside the home where she had lived for the past 16 years. Then the winds picked up, devastating her hometown, Rendel, nestled high in the mountains of Haiti. A tree crashed down across Marie’s home, smashing the roof, walls and the bed where her children normally slept. She and her children ran to a neighbor’s home to wait out the storm. When they emerged the next morning, Marie saw that everything they owned had been completely destroyed. “I didn’t save anything,” she said. “I couldn’t save it.”

Hurricane Matthew made landfall in Haiti on October 4th as the most powerful storm to hit the Caribbean in over 50 years. An estimated 1.4 million people were affected, including some 600,000 children. Shelters and health centers were damaged, and infrastructure was destroyed, cutting off access to relief. Then another disaster unfolded – cholera. The disease has been active in Haiti since six months following the 2010 earthquake, but the storm ignited a surge in cases. More than 4,500 new cases have been reported in the southwest, the region where Marie lives. In isolated communities, like Rendel, cholera has been particularly deadly for lack of care. Marie explained, “After the hurricane, people kept dying of cholera. It is our biggest problem.”

International Medical Corps is focusing on reaching the hardest hit communities in the Sud and Grand’Anse departments in southwestern Haiti, where accessing isolated communities like Rendel is possible only by donkey, on foot or by helicopter. We are providing primary health care and nutrition screenings with mobile medical units in 15 communes. We have also made preventing and treating cholera a major priority. Our staff in special oral rehydration points and cholera clinics in the Sud are saving the lives of those suffering from aggressive cholera symptoms, and following up with patients with prevention services. In shelters and schools, we have been providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene supplies to help prevent the spread of disease. In November, we also helped the Haitian government and WHO implement a large-scale cholera vaccination campaign.

Marie was one of the people hired by the Ministry of Health to administer doses of the oral cholera vaccine to the people of Rendel. The vaccine will help keep her family and neighbors safe from cholera, as well as giving her some much-needed income. “I have been living in Rendel my whole life,” she said. “This was our worst disaster.”

We want to thank the GlobalGiving community for your support as we help the people of Haiti recover from Hurricane Matthew.

Destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew
Destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew
A young girl waits in line for a medical check-up
A young girl waits in line for a medical check-up
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Hurricane Matthew caused significant damage
Hurricane Matthew caused significant damage

International Medical Corps’ emergency response team is on the ground in southwestern Haiti, providing medical care and emergency relief in some of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Matthew.

“We have heard reports of localized cholera outbreaks in communities along the coast, largely in areas that have yet to be reached with assistance,” says Sean Casey, International Medical Corps’ emergency response team leader on the ground. “Every hour counts. We urgently need access to cut-off areas so we can help stop these cholera outbreaks, or we could have a crisis that kills far more people than the storm itself.”

In Les Cayes, a seaport in the area of southwestern Haiti that bore the brunt of the storm, our teams assessed temporary shelters and found that many are overcrowded, with a number of children and adults reporting illness. Our team has found that many hurricane-affected communities lack access to safe drinking water, putting them at high-risk of disease outbreaks, while many health facilities are damaged with limited or no supplies.

Already Immaculate Conception Hospital in Les Cayes, Sud Department, has reported two patients with cholera, and at least three cases have been reported in Jérémie, Grand’Anse Department. There are additional unconfirmed reports of isolated outbreaks of cholera along the southern coast, which has the potential to spread as access between communities improves.

In support of the Government of Haiti’s response efforts, International Medical Corps is focusing on reaching hard-hit and remote areas with medical care, water, sanitation and hygiene support, and expanding cholera prevention and treatment efforts, including:

 

  • Deploying mobile medical units to provide health care, including working to mitigate the spread of cholera
  • Supporting local health facilities with medical personnel, medicines and medical supplies, clean water, debris removal, and additional assistance as needed
  • Ensuring communities have access to safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene supplies to prevent the spread of cholera and other diseases

In response to the needs resulting from Hurricane Matthew, we plan to continue and scale this work, and are grateful for the GlobalGiving community's support. 

Over 61,000 people are in evacuation shelters
Over 61,000 people are in evacuation shelters
We are addressing needs in southwestern Haiti
We are addressing needs in southwestern Haiti
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Some 350,000 people are in need of assistance
Some 350,000 people are in need of assistance

With travel by road restricted by damage from Hurricane Matthew, International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team arrived by helicopter in Les Cayes, a city in the area of southwestern Haiti that bore the brunt of the storm. The Category 4 storm made direct landfall with sustained winds of 145 mph on October 4, causing widespread destruction that has left some of the hardest hit communities unreachable.

“Heavy rainfall and flooding create fertile ground for disease outbreaks like cholera, which our teams have been treating in Haiti since 2010,” says Sean Casey, International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team Leader in Haiti. “Ensuring people have access to clean water, sanitation facilities, and hygiene supplies will be essential in preventing the spread of illness. We will also be looking to support local health facilities and other immediate needs of affected communities.”

As responders continue to assess the full scale damage in Haiti, the United Nations estimates 350,000 people are in need of humanitarian assistance following the storm, while a reported 21,000 people are staying in shelters and preliminary assessments found some 28,000 houses were damaged. The hurricane flattened villages, damaged local infrastructure and, with nearly 300 people killed by the storm, devastated families and communities. In response, additional emergency response experts, including a water, sanitation, and hygiene specialist, are en route to Haiti to join International Medical Corps’ Emergency Response Team in Les Cayes.

Our team in the Bahamas, which is made up of 700 islands and particularly vulnerable to tropical storms, as much of the country is low-lying and coastal, is preparing to travel to the hardest hit areas as soon as possible to determine the greatest needs and provide emergency assistance to survivors.

We thank you for your continued support as we assess and respond to the most urgent needs following the devastation from Hurricane Mathew. 

Damage in Les Cayes, Haiti
Damage in Les Cayes, Haiti
Flooding in Nassau, the Bahamas
Flooding in Nassau, the Bahamas
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Our Emergency Response team is en route to southern Haiti, where Hurricane Matthew made landfall at 7:00 AM local time on October 4. The primary concern continues to be flooding and mudslides. Reporting out of Haiti remains scattered, with outages, flooding, and road closures reported inconsistently and with little follow-up. The United Nations has released a population impact assessment suggesting about 214,000 people in Haiti live within areas impacted by winds of 75 mph, most of whom are in Ouest and Grande Anse.

Haiti is still facing heavy rain, particularly in the northwest region. Significant flooding due to rain and, in coastal areas, storm surges were evident across the south. The United Nations reported more than 340,000 people had evacuated to shelters early in the day, and damaged homes and shelters displaced thousands more. The airports in Port au Prince and Cap Haitien are closed, and power outages have been reported in the south. Major flooding and some landslides have been reported in Les Cayes. Communication systems, particularly in Grand Anse, and the south, are currently unreliable.

We anticipate there will be the need for access to clean water, and we are prioritizing the procurement and distribution of hygiene kits and other supplies; we are also monitoring levels of cholera, now endemic to the country. International Medical Corps has been on the ground in Haiti since 2010 responding to the earthquake and then fighting cholera—a disease that will be exacerbated by the heavy rains and flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew.

We’ve also deployed an emergency response team to the Bahamas, which is expecting up to 15 inches of rain as the storm makes a direct hit today, October 5. This will be the first direct strike to the main island, New Providence, since 1929. Comprised of thirty inhabited islands, the National Emergency Management Agency has advised residents of the Family Islands, those islands other than New Providence, to have supplies for at least three days. Authorities are also warning residents in low-lying areas and along the coast to evacuate to shelters, and operating flights to bring people to New Providence before the storm hits.

The eye of the storm is expected to cross over the eastern edge of Cuba. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research Operational Satellite Applications Programme’s impact assessment suggests about 357,000 people in Cuba live within areas which will be impacted by winds of 75 mph, most of whom live in easternmost Guantanamo Province. Rainfall is a significant concern in eastern Cuba with up to 15 inches expected in some areas and 8 to 12 inches projected for most of the country.

In the Dominican Republic, Hurricane Matthew damaged 200 homes and resulted in at least four deaths, according to the Dominican Republic’s Center for Emergency Operations. Some 20,000 people sought alternative shelter during the storm. While the country was on the outer edge of the storm, it faced tropical storm-force winds and heavy rain throughout the day. In Jamaica, the government offices have reopened and public transit is operating with limited service as the government has discontinued the tropical storm warning for the country.

We thank you for your continued support as we prepare to respond to the most urgent needs following devastation from Hurricane Matthew.  

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Organization Information

International Medical Corps

Location: Los Angeles, CA - USA
Website:
Project Leader:
Davis Nordeen
Los Angeles, CA United States

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