It is the time of the year where the world holds their breath and prays for a mild storm season along the equator. This year those prayers were not answered, and Hurricane Matthew has blazed a trail through Haiti, Bahamas, Cuba, and the state of Florida, with some news publications going as far as to refer to the super storm as “Killer Matthew”.
This type of issue is often lost on us here in southern Ontario. The worst we get are brutal winters, and the national guard isn’t coming in to help us out with those. Unfortunately, residents of these affected areas cannot simply put another layer on and stick it out until they get where they are going. For those of us who have spent the majority of our lives in Canada or somewhere with a similar climate, the idea of evacuating your home, knowing there is a possibility that there could be nothing left of it when you return is difficult to grasp. Nevertheless, this has been the reality for many in these past two weeks. In Florida, millions have been urged to evacuate, with the prospect of 100mp/h winds closing in on the south-eastern coast of the United States. For the most part, people have been seemingly compliant in heeding the warnings of those facilitating the evacuations. With traffic photos emerging of cars packed into northbound highway lanes exiting major cities on one side, and the incoming lanes either completely empty, or with military personnel moving into the danger zone, it is safe to say the message was received loud and clear.
Experts at AccuWeather stated that due to the slow pace of the storm, cities were exposed to multiple days of rain, extremely high winds, flash flooding, and storm surging of surf reaching 10-15 feet high in some areas. Other U.S. weather outlets such as the National Weather Service have used urgent language to get the message across stating that the storm could “leave some places uninhabitable for weeks or even months.”
In Haiti, Matthew has unfortunately lived up to its nickname dubbed by some media outlets and is currently responsible for over one thousand deaths in Haiti and the Carribbean, a number sure to climb as rescue workers move in. According to the CBC, roads leading to the hospital in Port-à-Piment are now semi-navigable, however this impoverished section of Haiti does not have an ambulance or any other established system of transportation, and the doctors are only able to help those who manage to find their way to the hospital themselves. So far, most of those who are fortunate enough to make it to the facility have been treated mainly for cholera, a waterborne illness that attacks the small intestine and, among other gruesome side effects, causes severe dehydration if not treated.
The devastation goes beyond the human loss of life as well. Crops and farms in Haiti were devoured by Matthew, leaving hardly any food sources for the people clinging to whatever lives they have left. A United Nations Environmental Program employee based in Haiti spoke on the destruction the super storm left in its wake.
“It seems to me like a nuclear bomb went off. In terms of destruction—environmental and agricultural—I can tell you 2016 is worse than 2010.” The official refers to a 7.0 magnitude earthquake which hit Haiti in January of 2010, killing over 100,000 people and causing a similar cholera outbreak that sickened over 300,000, and killing close to 50,000—a catastrophic event which Haiti had yet to recover from. Of course, the realities of natural disasters are not nearly as alien to the people of Haiti as they are to us. Since the early 1960’s, the country of Haiti has not enjoyed more than eight consecutive years without experiencing a catastrophic natural disaster, and from 2002-2010, there has been at least one devastating natural disaster each year in the small island state.
As the storm continues to move up the coast of the south-eastern United States, residents of South Carolina and Georgia are urged to follow suit with Florida and begin evacuating their homes in anticipation of the still very present danger of hurricane Matthew continuing its path of devastation northwards. In South Carolina, more than forty emergency shelters have been established. Regardless, with the death toll rising, residents are urged to simply get as far north as possible.
As stated before, this type of devastation is completely alien to those of us used to the Canadian weather system and cannot begin to imagine what it is like for those living this reality. As of right now, there are thousands dead, more missing, and even more sick from this storm, with numbers in all three categories rising by the hour. In times like this the afflicted areas rely on the aid and humanity of those who can and will help. Organizations such as the Red Cross, Worldvision, and the Crisis Relief Centre have organized to help those they can and are accepting donations to help rebuild.