Red Cross distributes items after Hurricane Isaac

© Vadim Janvier / Haitian Red Cross

In the past 48 hours Tropical Storm Sandy strengthened into a category 1 hurricane, affecting Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti. It brought heavy rains, with the potential for flash flooding and loss of life.

Around the world, in preparation for such disasters, the International Movement of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has pre-positioned stockpiles of emergency goods, such as food, blankets, tarpaulins, kitchen sets and hygiene kits. It also has early warning systems and pre-agreed plans and procedures for responding to different types of disaster. This means that long before a hurricane hits landfall, the Red Cross springs into action to reduce the threat of harm for those most at risk.

In Haiti, the British Red Cross continues to work with the Haitian Red Cross and other partners on a long-term recovery programme following a devastating earthquake in 2010.

Two days ago, as weather-forecasters reported a brewing tropical storm about 120 km south of Jamaica and moving in a northerly direction, Red Cross teams across the region started co-ordinating their response and putting contingency plans into practice.

The following is by no means an exhaustive list, but highlights some of the actions taken by the British Red Cross team in Haiti, both to prepare our staff and the vulnerable people we’re working with.

72 hours before landfall

  • clean-up drains
  • check stocks of sand bags, food and medicines
  • ensure all generators and emergency equipment are working
  • activate alternate means of communication and inform head office in London
  • review travel plans, postpone incoming travellers, advance if possible the departure of visitors

36 hours before landfall

  • pack bags and be prepared to move to more secure accommodation
  • secure the premises, close storm shutters and secure outdoor objects
  • secure personal documents and protect them from possible water damage
  • community mobilisation team talk to local people about how to prepare for potential hazards during and even after the storm, such as waterborne diseases
  • plan for any relief distribution to communities, e.g. compile beneficiary lists, vouchers, maps etc

24 hours before landfall

  • charge all electrical items and comms equipment
  • fill the bathtub and other larger containers with water
  • secure on-going programme work as much as possible
  • distribute radio handsets, chargers, and batteries, and check frequency
  • conduct final check of compound and main buildings which will host staff
  • establish plan for communications during the hurricane itself (responsibility and frequency)
  • evacuate vulnerable people to an alternative location, such as the Red Cross office

Passage of the hurricane

  • stay indoors during the hurricane, away from windows and glass doors
  • take refuge in a small interior room, closet or hallway on the lowest level
  • keep curtains and blinds closed and do not be fooled if there is a lull; it could be the eye of the storm – winds may pick up again

After the hurricane

Our team in Haiti is currently assessing the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the residents of Delmas 19, who were badly affected by the earthquake in 2010.

Wendy McCance, programme manager, said: “When we first started working with the community one of the priorities they identified was to rebuild the drainage canal which regularly floods houses in the neighbourhood and this project has already proved its worth.”

In August 2012 the canal was put to the test when Tropical Storm Isaac swept through Haiti bringing with it heavy rains and winds. This was the first time such heavy rain has not caused the houses next to the canal to flood.

“The canal will have been put to the test again with Hurricane Sandy, but we’re confident that it will have reduced the amount of flooding in Delmas 19 and there won’t be too much damage,” said Wendy. “However, our big concern over the coming days will be how the cholera situation is affected, as after Hurricane Isaac the number of cases rose by 50 per cent.”

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