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Illustration by Security Management

Earthquake, Tropical Storm Cause Humanitarian Crisis in Haiti

A dire situation in the Caribbean nation of Haiti worsened yesterday and overnight. Still dealing with political unrest following the 7 July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and a ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake did massive damage on Saturday, and yesterday and last night Tropical Storm Grace buffeted the area with strong winds and driving rain.

At least 1,419 people died and more than 6,000 were injured as a result of an earthquake centered 125 kilometers (78 miles) west of Port-au-Prince. Hospitals already under strain from the pandemic were inundated with new sick and injured people. With no space, many have been treated in the hallways or outside hospitals.

According to The Washington Post, the earthquake damaged 84,000 homes. Almost all structures in some towns and villages were levelled, leaving no shelter from the 10 inches of rain and strong winds from the tropical storm.

“We’re pleading for help,” Marie-Helene L’Esperance, mayor of the harbor town of Pestel, told Haiti’s Pacific Radio as reported in the Post. “Every house was destroyed; there’s nowhere to live, we need shelters, medical help and especially water. We’ve had nothing for three days and injured victims are starting to die.”

Since the assassination of Moïse, gang violence in the country has escalated. Aid organizations are concerned that gang activity will interfere with relief efforts. Local Haitian officials are attempting to negotiate with gangs to allow relief support to enter affected areas, but some reports indicate the main road from Port au Prince to the hardest hit regions is under gang control.

Heavy rains from Grace also inundated the Dominican Republic, which, together with Haiti, encompasses the Caribbean island. Still a tropical storm, Grace is currently bombarding Jamaica. The U.S. National Weather Service forecasts the possibility that Grace will enter the Gulf of Mexico, grow to hurricane force, and continue on a heading toward Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Fred moved onshore across Florida’ panhandle and into Georgia. No longer tropical storm strength, the storm system is causing flooding and mudslide damage in the Southeastern United States. Mountainous portions of Tennessee, North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, and West Virginia could see heavy rains from the storm throughout Tuesday.

In other weather related news, for the decades-long drought in the American Southwest has, for the first time, led the U.S. federal government to declare a water shortage in the Colorado River basin, triggering mandatory cutbacks in water usage.

“The cuts, set to take effect in 2022, will primarily affect Arizona, which stands to lose 512,000 acre-feet, or 18 percent of its annual allocation—enough water to meet the annual household needs of a city the size of Phoenix,” reported The Wall Street Journal. “Nevada and New Mexico will see their water allocations cut as well, by smaller amounts of 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively. They and Arizona have the most junior rights under a 14-year-old water-sharing agreement with the seven Colorado River Basin states, which also include California, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. If the reservoir keeps falling, as federal and state water managers fear it will, mandatory reductions could be imposed on states with higher-ranking rights.”