PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP)–An embattled Haiti is bracing for Tropical Storm Tomas, which is expected to strengthen into a hurricane before its projected hit Friday, Nov. 5.
In the 10 months since the Jan. 12 earthquake, Haitians have lived in fear of two potential threats, with more than 1.3 million homeless in unsanitary and unstable tent cities: disease and hurricanes in the tropical climate.
After a possible nationwide outbreak of cholera was contained to the city of St. Marc in October, now the hurricane is certain to bring destructive winds and flash flooding.
Those living in tent cities are most at risk. What the strong winds do not destroy, the floodwaters will, as thousands of tents line riverbanks and low-lying areas.
Florida and Southern Baptist disaster relief teams on the ground in Port-au-Prince are making preparations for the worst, said Eddie Blackmon, Haiti Rebuild coordinator for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.
“We are sending two medical teams from Pensacola back to the U.S., getting our water supplies together in a safe place and filling up our vehicles with gas, much like we do when a hurricane is threatening Florida,” said Blackmon. Construction materials being used to rebuild homes also are being secured, he noted.
Although media reports suggest that the government is moving people out of the tent cities, Blackmon said he had driven through the tent cities in Port-au-Prince during the past two days and “seen no movement. My biggest concern is for the people in the tent cities.”
“There is really no place for them to go,” Blackmon added. “If there were, the government would have moved them before now.”
Fritz Wilson, incident commander of the Haiti earthquake response and Florida Baptist disaster relief director, reported that the convention has 17 tons of rice positioned in warehouses across Haiti, with pastors trained for making distributions if needed.
“We have our supplies and resources on the ground,” Wilson said.
“In God’s timing,” he said, “next week we are scheduled to take more than 4,000 Buckets of Hopes to Jeremie and Les Cayes,” towns in southwestern Haiti where the hurricane is likely to hit. Each bucket, packed by Southern Baptist hands, contains enough food to feed a Haitian family for more than a week.
Florida Baptists, working in partnership with the 1,000 churches of the Confraternite Missionaries Baptiste d’Haiti, have responded to eight disasters in the past 15 years
Florida Baptists shipped bottled water and water purification filters to St. Marc in late October to help stem the cholera outbreak in that city, located about 60 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince.
The supplies were sent after Fritz Albert, director of missions of Haiti’s Artibonne Baptist Association, issued a plea of help.
“Pastor Albert asked if there was anything we could do to help provide pure water for churches in the St. Marc area,” said Blackmon, who is stationed at the Florida Baptist Mission House in Port-au-Prince. “The outbreak has scared everyone in the area, making them afraid to drink any water.”
Cholera, a bacterial infection of the small intestines, can cause vomiting and diarrhea so severe it can kill victims from dehydration within days. The disease is spread through contaminated water, food and poor sanitation.
Volunteers from First Baptist and Hillcrest churches in Pensacola traveled to Haiti on Saturday, Oct. 30, with 30 water purification drip-type filters that can be installed on five-gallon buckets to help stem the lack of pure drinking water.
Additionally $30,000 was earmarked to purchase water in Port-au-Prince to be shipped to St. Marc.
Albert dispensed the water and purification filters to the churches for distribution to families in their communities.
Despite the outbreak, Florida Baptist Convention officials released a statement to their churches encouraging mission volunteers to continue with scheduled plans.
Blackmon reported that the Pensacola medical teams treated 800 patients during the week of Oct. 24-30 and another 600 patients before being sent home.
Barbara Denman is director of communications for the Florida Baptist Convention.