- Devastation in Haiti forces UN to call for $120m in aid
With floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew on the rise, at least one North Carolina city appeared near chaos Monday, its police station shuttered and sporadic gunfire in the air, and authorities worried that more communities could end up the same way.
The storm is gone, but it left behind a water-logged landscape where flooding was expected to persist for the rest of the week. At least three rivers were forecast to reach record levels, some not cresting until Friday. In many areas the scene resembled a repeat of Hurricane Floyd, which caused $3bn in damage and destroyed 7,000 homes as it skirted the coast in 1999.
Officials were concerned that other cities could suffer the fate of Lumberton, a community of 22,000 people about 80 miles from the ocean.
The Rev Volley Hanson worried that stress from the lack of running water and electricity might push people over the edge. Robeson County, which includes Lumberton, had North Carolina’s highest violent crime rate in 2014.
“The cash is going to be running out. We’ve already got street vendors hawking water, Cokes and cigarettes. Cigarettes are at seven bucks a pack,” Hanson said. “It’s nuts here, and it’s going to get worse.”
The storm killed more than 500 people in Haiti and at least 22 in the US, nearly half of them in North Carolina. At least three people were missing.
The full extent of the disaster in North Carolina was still unclear, but it appeared that thousands of homes were damaged and more were in danger of flooding.
One silver lining may be that emergency planners now have sophisticated models that can precisely determine a river’s crest and pinpoint which buildings will be flooded. But even those models have their limits. They cannot predict when a levee or a dam will fail. A levee in Lumberton appeared to fail overnight, but officials later concluded that floodwaters had flowed around it.
About 1,500 people had to be rescued early Monday. Most of them were in knee-deep water, but some fled to rooftops as the brown waters swirled around them.
Rescuers still have not made it to all the submerged cars or figured out exactly how many people are missing or dead, county emergency management director Stephanie Chavis said.
“I’ve been here right at 28 years,” Chavis said. “This seems to be the worst one we’ve had in my career.”
Damien Mosher and his fiance were trying to make it to their coastal home in South Carolina but were detoured to Lumberton because Interstate 95, a major artery for the east coast, was closed. Shelters turned them away because of their two dogs so they ended up in the police department parking lot, listening to occasional gunfire around them. The department’s doors were locked, and most of the 75 or so officers were out helping with traffic or rescues.
The Lumber river crested 4ft above its record level Sunday in Lumberton and was forecast to remain there until Saturday.
River flooding was happening in other places, too. In the tiny town of Nichols, South Carolina, downstream from Lumberton, at least 100 people spent the night on the third floor of the town hall.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory pleaded with residents to heed evacuation orders and to be careful. The seven-day forecast of clear, cooler weather was good for cleanup but might lure people into a false sense of security.
“This is going to be a prolonged hurricane for us even though the skies are blue,” the governor said.
Engineers had no estimate on when the interstate would reopen. Driving was difficult, if not impossible because hundreds of roads were closed, in some cases isolating entire towns. Dozens of school districts and East Carolina University canceled classes for the entire week. Nearly 1 million people in North Carolina and South Carolina were without power two days after the eye of the hurricane moved out to sea.
In addition to the 10 deaths in North Carolina, there were four in Florida and three each in Georgia and South Carolina. One death was reported in Virginia.
In the meantime, the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has called for a “massive response” to help Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew as local aid officials struggled to get food, medicine and water to increasingly desperate communities still isolated almost a week after the blow from the deadly storm.
“Some towns and villages have been almost wiped off the map,” Ban told reporters. “Tensions are already mounting as people await help. A massive response is required. UN teams are working with local officials to assess needs.”
Power was still out, water and food were scarce on Monday, and officials said young men in villages along the road between the hard-hit cities of Les Cayes and Jeremie were putting up blockades of rocks and broken branches to halt convoys of vehicles bringing relief supplies.
One convoy carrying food, water and medications was attacked by gunmen in a remote valley where there had been a mudslide, said Frednel Kedler, coordinator for the civil protection agency in the Grand-Anse department, which includes Jeremie. He said authorities would try to reach marooned and desperate communities west of Jeremie on Monday.
The national civil protection headquarters in Port-au-Prince on Monday raised its official nationwide death toll to 372, which included 198 deaths in Grand-Anse. Local officials have said the toll tops 500 in Grand-Anse alone.
The UN humanitarian agency in Geneva, meanwhile, made an emergency appeal for nearly $120m in aid to help provide “life-saving assistance and protection” for 750,000 people in south-western Haiti over the next three months.
UN officials said earlier that at least 1.4 million people across the region needed assistance and that 2.1 million overall had been affected by the hurricane. Some 175,000 people remained in shelters Monday.
The agency said flooding had hampered efforts to reach the most affected areas, and that the hurricane had increased the risk of a “renewed spike” in the number of cholera cases. A continuing cholera outbreak has already killed roughly 10,000 people and sickened more than 800,000 since 2010.
Roosevelt Zamos, an official with the civil protection agency, told the Associated Press that there were 40 cases of cholera in Jeremie alone. He said eight people had died of cholera in the Grand-Anse department since the storm.
It can take 12 hours to five days for cholera symptoms to appear after a person ingests contaminated food or water, according to the World Health Organization.
The open-air cholera treatment center at Jeremie’s main hospital had no running water on Monday and at least a dozen of the new patients were under age 10.