November 10, 2010
Following the Path of Hurricane Tomas
by Chris Broughton-Bossong
On November 4, 2010, Hurricane Tomas finally made its anxiously awaited landfall in Port-au-Prince Haiti, bringing heavy rainfall and high winds throughout the night and into the next morning. Reports were coming into us from our veterinary colleagues on the southern peninsula that the storm was been felt much harder there. On the morning of November 5, I loaded our vehicle with animal rescue equipment, water response gear and some camping equipment and began my journey down to Haiti’s southwest coast.
I had arranged to pick up my teammates en route; our first stop was in Leogane, the epicenter of January’s earthquake. As I pulled into town, I began to realize that passage through was not be a possibility. The center of Leogane had become a fast-moving river, complete with rapids and debris. I was able to circumvent the waters and stay with a colleague, Matt, also a Marine Corps medic, at his team’s base camp. By morning, the waters had receded enough for our vehicles to make it back to the main highway.
Our next stop was Les Cayes, the home of another teammate of ours, Caesaire, who was monitoring reports of Tomas’ impact further down the coast. At several junctures along the drive, we were forced to drive through rivers and creeks to avoid the more heavily flooded or otherwise impassable sections of road. We arrived safely in the early afternoon. Les Cayes had been rumored to have sustained a heavy hit but as we did not observe any immediate structural or water damage. When we met with Caesaire, he said that he had been in contact with some individuals in a region known as La Cote that had sustained some heavy damage during the storm.
We departed at first light and made our way there to assess their needs. We spent the entire day traveling to remote villages along the southern coast and thankfully did not find any animals in need of immediate rescue or veterinary care. It occurred to me that the axiom of emergency response is that your hope is not to be needed!
Our team spent much of the day meeting with local villagers and veterinary workers in the coastal communities. We were able to gain some very valuable insight as to how we could design some veterinary relief projects in these areas tailored to the specific regional needs. As with all of our projects in Haiti and elsewhere, our goal is not simply to provide momentary relief, but rather to work within the communities to help develop capacity.
Thankfully, our team did not end up finding any opportunity to pull animals from flood waters or mudslides, but the information we gathered during our time in the more remote areas of the coast will help us design aid initiatives that will endure in these regions for years to come.
Chris Broughton-Bossong is Haiti Program Coordinator for HSI.