Extreme weather conditions are threatening the island of Hispaniola as Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm, approaches Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Thursday, September 7. As of 02:00 (local time) on Thursday, Irma is located northeast of the Dominican Republic, about 225 km (140 mi) northwest of San Juan in Puerto Rico.
Haiti has been placed under red alert as torrential rains of up to 25 cm (10 inches), fierce winds, and strong surf are forecast. Risks of heavy flooding, landslides, and falling trees are high and could result in severe damage throughout the island.
According to media sources, many coastal residents in Haiti only received the hurricane warnings on Wednesday evening, considerably elevating the risks of material damage and of casualties in the already-impoverished island.
As a result, transport disruptions, including flight delays and cancelations to and from Toussaint Louverture (PAP) and Cap-Haïtien (CAP) international airport and Jacmel Airport (JAK), are likely in the upcoming days.
Irma strengthened into a Category 5 storm on Tuesday, September 5, north of the Lesser Antilles. Irma became the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin (outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico) on record as of Tuesday morning, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). Initial reports confirm at least one person has died on the island of Barbuda and at least eight have died on the islands of St. Martin and St. Barthélemy, with at least 23 reported injured. The casualty toll is expected to rise.
According to NHC, Hurricane warnings are currently in place for Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra, the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the northern border with Haiti, the Southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands nd the central Bahamas. A hurricane watch is in effect for Cuba from Matanzas province eastward to Guantanamo province and the northwestern Bahamas.
Southern parts of Haiti are still recovering from a major hurricane that hit in October 2016. Sud, Nippes, and Grand’Anse departments suffered significant damage after Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall on October 4, 2016. A total of 370,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm, including 285,000 in rural areas, and hundreds of people were killed. Additional flooding between April 23 and May 2, killed at least ten more people across Haiti. Significant social unrest broke out following the storm due to the insufficient government response.
The beleaguered Sud department remains the most affected region, with 80 percent of the spring harvest reportedly wiped out due to flooding and an estimated 350,000 affected. There are also significant fears of a famine in Grand’Anse department as food supplies run dangerously low. According to a recent report from the UN, an estimated 1.5 million people remain food insecure in Haiti, particularly in the northwestern and southern departments.
Individuals present in Haiti are advised to keep abreast of weather alerts, confirm travel reservations, avoid coastal and mountainous areas (risk of flooding and landslides), and adhere to all advice issued by the local authorities.
Remember that driving or walking through running water can be dangerous; 15 cm (6 in) of running water is enough to knock over an adult. Finally, because floodwater may also contain wastewater or chemical products, wear boots and try to avoid any contact with the water. All items having come into contact with the water should be washed and disinfected. Dispose of any food that may have come into contact with floodwater.