Caribbean islands shaken by category 4 Hurricane Matthew

BY EMMA RUBIN '20

On Oct. 4, category 4 Hurricane Matthew directly impacted the Caribbean, most notably devastating Haiti. From Haiti, the storm went on to make landfall in Cuba, the Bahamas and the Southeastern U.S. Although Matthew only made landfall in these nations, Jamaica, Curacao, Aruba, Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic (which is on the same island as Haiti) were also affected either through hurricane or tropical storm effects, according to CNN.

The Atlantic storm formed into a hurricane on Sept. 29 and, based on reports from the National Hurricane Center, reached peak category 5 winds of 160 mph from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, making it the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic since Hurricane Felix in 2007. However, by the time it first made landfall on the Tiburon Peninsula of Haiti the winds had reduced to approximately 145 mph, classifying it as category 4. Winds continued to reduce and by 2 a.m. on Oct. 5, 125 mph winds lowered it to a category 3 storm. Before Matthew’s first landing, the National Hurricane Center warned: “Matthew is likely to produce devastating impacts from storm surge, extreme winds, heavy rains, flash floods and/or mudslides in portions of the watch and warning areas in Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas.”

Effects of Matthew are most evident in Haiti because, according to The World Bank, it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and, according to Global Research, its lack of infrastructure makes it especially vulnerable to natural disasters. UN estimates claim 546 dead, 438 injured and 128 missing. Unofficial counts place the death toll as high as 1,000 people. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that 1.4 million people need humanitarian aid and that of these people, close to 600,000 are children.

The family of Vickie Victor ’18 is from southern Haiti, where Matthew hit the hardest. After not being able to reach them for days, Victor was finally able to reach her aunt, who also experienced the earthquake that shook Haiti in 2010. Victor said that when she talked to her aunt, “Her exact words to me were, ‘This time is worse than after the earthquake.’ And I didn’t really understand. How could the hurricane possibly be worse than the earthquake that took over 200,000 lives?” The crucial difference, Victor said, is that “the earthquake destroyed weak buildings and took many lives in the process, but it didn’t affect the way Haitians lived, survived and provided for themselves on a daily basis.” Even for her aunt, Victor said, parts of Haiti are unrecognizable. “Places that were once covered with more plantain and coconut trees than what was needed are now naked and empty. ... With the tone in her voice I could tell that the devastation was deeper than just the death toll reported by the media.” Because southern Haiti played a large role in supplying food for the rest of the country, according to Victor, “hunger will become an even larger issue” in the aftermath of Matthew. “Many Haitians without jobs used what they grew in their backyards to not only put food on the table but to sell on the streets to survive everyday.”

At a press conference, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, “A massive response is required.” The Secretary General announced that an immediate $5 million was dispatched from the Central Emergency Response Fund and that the UN is appealing for $120 million in aid over the next three months. He said, “I call on the international community to show solidarity and generosity and to work together effectively in responding to this emergency,” as reported by the UN website

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Hurricane also worsened a preexisting issue of cholera in Haiti. The cholera problem can be traced back to 2010 when the nation received aid from that’s year’s earthquake. According to NPR, UN Peacekeepers stationed in Haiti leaked waste into a river, infecting the water. The floods which Matthew brought likely mixed water with sewage, contaminating more water sources.

According to CNN, The World Health Organization identified that the storm also destroyed 35 health centers in the southern part of Haiti, some of these being cholera treatment facilities. On Oct. 10, the WHO decided to send 1 million cholera vaccines to Haiti to aid in the health crisis. The vaccination is a two part process, so the dispatch will protect 500,000 recipients from the disease over the next two years.

The hurricane also had political implications on the nation. Haiti was scheduled to hold elections on Sunday, Oct. 9 but its electoral council decided to postpone the election until Nov. 20 in the aftermath of the storm. This is not the first time that this presidential election has been delayed in Haiti, and the current interim president was scheduled to leave office in June.

The eastern part of Cuba also required humanitarian aid after being hit especially hard by Matthew. The United Nations World Food Program is working with Cuba’s government to provide food for the civilians in the region, as reported by the UN News Centre. The WFP representative of Cuba Laura Melo said, “We estimate that we will need $4 million to assist 180,000 people in the next six months.”

Specifically, Cuba’s eastern most city Baracoa faced severe damage from Matthew. One-story homes near the water bore the brunt of the damage in the city, most being completely destroyed. Other buildings still need repair but remain standing. Yoan Lavanino, a resident of Baracoa, told NBC Miami, “Always, there is always hope, this happened once further away and we were able to recover.”

Despite being hit by Hurricane Matthew, tourism market in the Bahamas appears to have resumed on most of the islands. In the aftermath of the storm, Senior Director of Hotel Licensing Geneva Cooper estimated that $1.8 million in revenue was lost from cruise ship cancellations alone during the wake of the storm, according to the Miami Herald. Multiple hotels, specifically in Grand Bahama and Andros, suffered damage that likely will not be completely repaired until the next season. In a press release from the Ministry of Tourism, the director for Grand Bahama Betty Bethel said, “After speaking with several of our partners they are very optimistic that with the restoration of power and water we actually can have a product within two months.”

Locals in more impoverished communities suffered more devastating effects from the storm. “I don’t know how we are going to recover from this,” Ednie Grant, a Bahamian victim of the storm told the Nassau Guardian, “Everything washed away.” Juliette Smith, a resident of West End Grand Bahama, also told the Nassau Guardian “This is the most devastating thing that I have seen in 68 years of my life,” after viewing her childhood home in shambles due to the hurricane. 

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