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MSF physician Evi Eggers describes reaching villages devastated by flooding
May 28, 2004
May 28, 2004 - Following heavy rainfalls last Sunday, villages in the border region between Haiti and the Dominican Republic were inundated. The heaviest flooding occurred early Monday morning, surprising people in their sleep. Many did not have the chance to escape.
Fond Verrettes, a Haitian village located on the edge of a small river and surrounded by mountains, was completely swept away by the floods. The river swelled to enormous proportions of over 500 meters wide. What were once houses and streets are now only fields of rocks. Over two hundred people are missing, but only three bodies have been found so far. Many are thought to be buried under the rocks.
On Tuesday, an MSF logistician and driver tried to reach Fond Verrettes, but about 20 kilometers before they reached their destination, they found the road completely destroyed by the floods and they had to turn back. The next day an MSF medical doctor and logistician boarded a helicopter and were able to reach the village.
Only the houses on the hillsides remained intact. Villagers who managed to escape the flooding in the valley are now staying with family, with friends, or in an empty school and several other public buildings. According to villagers we spoke with, nobody is without shelter, although some are living with six or seven families to one house.
The road is blocked on either side, so no vehicles can reach Port au Prince or Jacmel. Some people from flood-affected villages are walking over 15 hours to Port au Prince, hoping to find shelter with relatives.
For drinkable water, villagers usually rely on a cistern or a spring in the valley, but the cistern is now damaged and unusable and the spring is flooded. People are putting out buckets and other containers to collect rainwater. Latrines are scarce. Nevertheless, no cases of diarrhea or typhoid fever have been reported so far.
There is a large health center on the hillside. Although the rooms are filled with mud, the building is not damaged. Usually two Cuban doctors and a resident nurse and doctor work in the health center, but they had left the village for the weekend and have not yet been able to return.
The MSF team saw the most urgent cases in the health center and donated a basic emergency kit for 1000 people. About 30 people came, half with lacerations, cuts and bruises. One patient had an abscess in her breasts as she had stopped breastfeeding when she lost her baby in the flood. Others complained of headache, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite. One girl had not spoken since the disaster. Almost everyone has one or more (up to six children for one man) relatives who are "lost".
On Thursday, the same MSF team went to Mapou, a village described as "even worse off" than Fond Verrettes. This village is near the seaside and less mountainous. The MSF team travelled by helicopter as there is no access by road. Seeing the area from above, the team had an overview of large areas of the flooded landscape. Pieces of some roofs were visible, but many houses were completely covered. The center of the village is partly intact, but the population is scattered and many people don't have access to the village. So far 69 people are reported dead or lost.
MSF tried to get to the health center located between the villages of Mapou and Pignon, but the road was flooded and a detour would take over 90 minutes. As the floods affect Pignon much less severely, the team decided to do consultations in a school in the center of Mapou. There is a very small stock of medication in the health center.
Today, an MSF logistician is returning to Mapou with plastic sheeting for shelter and medical supplies to prepare the school to treat patients. Tomorrow MSF will try to reach Thiotte, another flood-affected village.