Hurricane Matthew’s trail of destruction in Haiti stunned those emerging from the aftermath on Friday, with the number of dead soaring to 842, tens of thousands homeless and outbreaks of cholera already claiming more lives.
Information trickled in from remote areas that were cut off by the storm, and it became clear that at least 175 people died in villages clustered among the hills and on the coast of Haiti’s fertile western tip.
Rural clinics overflowed with patients whose wounds including broken bones had not been treated since the storm hit on Tuesday. Food was scarce, and at least seven people died of cholera, likely because of flood water mixing with sewage.
The storm razed homes to their foundations. The corrugated metal roofs of those still standing were ripped off, the contents visible from above as if peering into doll’s houses.
At least three towns reported dozens of fatalities, including the hilly farming village of Chantal, whose mayor said 86 people perished, mostly when trees crushed houses. He said 20 more people were missing.
“A tree fell on the house and flattened it, the entire house fell on us. I couldn’t get out,” said driver Jean-Pierre Jean-Donald, 27, who had been married for a year.
“People came to lift the rubble, and then we saw my wife who had died in the same spot,” Jean-Donald said, his young daughter by his side, crying “Mommy.”
Dozens more were missing, many of them in the Grand’Anse region on the northern side of the peninsula.
“We flew over parts of the Grand’Anse region. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Frenel Kedner, a government official in the town of Jeremie in southwest Haiti. “The people urgently need food, water, medicine.”
In the town of Anse-d’Hainault, seven people died of cholera, a disease that did not exist in Haiti until U.N. peace keepers introduced it after a 2010 earthquake that killed some 200,000 people.
Another 17 cholera cases were reported in Chardonnieres on the south coast.
“Due to massive flooding and its impact on water and sanitation infrastructure, cholera cases are expected to surge after Hurricane Matthew and through the normal rainy season until the start of 2017,” the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said in a statement.
With fatalities mounting, various government agencies and committees differed on total deaths. A Reuters count of deaths reported by civil protection and local officials put the toll at 842.
Haiti’s central civil protection agency, which takes longer to collate numbers because it needs to visually confirm victims itself, said 271 people died as Matthew smashed through the western peninsula on Tuesday with 145 mph (233 kph) winds and torrential rain.
Some 61,500 people were in shelters, the agency said.
FLEEING FOR LIFE
Matthew pushed the sea into fragile coastal villages, some of which are only now being contacted.
Coastal town Les Anglais lost “several dozen” people, the central government representative in the region, Louis-Paul Raphael, told Reuters.
Les Anglais was the first place in Haiti that Matthew reached, as a powerful Category 4 storm before it moved north, lost strength and lashed central Florida on Friday.
With cellphone networks down and roads flooded by sea and river water, aid has been slow to reach towns and villages. Instead, locals have been helping each other.
“My house wasn’t destroyed, so I am receiving people, like it’s a temporary shelter,” said Bellony Amazan in the town of Cavaillon, where around a dozen people died. Amazan said she had no food to give people.
Outside Chantal, stall holders at a makeshift market were selling vegetables and soft drinks, brought in from Port-Au-Prince as roads were cleared to the capital.
“All our houses have been destroyed. This is our existence,” said one stall holder, who declined to give her name.
(Reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)