PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Floods and mudslides killed at least 13 people in Haiti over the weekend, raising fears about the vulnerability of survivors of the January 12 earthquake, officials and aid workers said on Monday.
Haiti’s civil protection agency said four people died when floodwaters triggered by torrential rains swept through Les Cayes, a port and the country’s third-largest city located on the southern coast about 100 miles (160 km) west of the quake-shattered capital Port-au-Prince.
“At one point, people had to climb on the roofs of their homes ... Les Cayes was flooded by more than 60 percent,” Joseph Yves-Marie Aubourg, the government’s representative in the region, told Reuters.
Four more people were killed in nearby Cavaillon, four in Saint Louis du Sud and one in Aquin, the civil protection agency said. Three people were missing and close to 3,500 were evacuated from their homes, it added.
The January 12 Haitian earthquake wrecked large parts of heavily populated Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns, but also damaged towns to the south and west in the Caribbean country, the poorest state in the Western Hemisphere.
Haiti’s government says the quake, described by some experts as the deadliest natural disaster worldwide in modern times, may have killed up to 300,000 people and left more than a million homeless.
As the start of the annual rainy season looms in March and the risk of floods and mudslides rises, an international relief operation is racing against time to improve shelter conditions for hundreds of thousands of quake victims who are camped out in the streets and open spaces in the capital and other towns.
The weekend rains drenched the survivors’ encampments.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which is coordinating the shelter improvement effort, said nearly 40 percent of the estimated 1.3 million homeless and displaced had so far received shelter materials of some kind, including tarpaulins, tents and shelter toolkits.
But many survivors were still sheltering in flimsy, homemade tents and huts, vulnerable to rains and floods.
“The early floods ... in Les Cayes are a sharp reminder that the very significant disaster-preparedness effort we started after the 2008 hurricanes will have to be expanded and adapted,” said Iain Logan, IFRC’s head of operations in Port-au-Prince.
Some 3,000 people were killed when deadly hurricanes raked the impoverished country in 2008, according to the government. The Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1.
“We face an almost unique set of circumstances generated by a catastrophic quake, a rainy season, and a hurricane season, one after the other in rapid succession,” Logan said.
Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Tom Brown and Philip Barbara