Ferocious Hurricane Irma tears through Caribbean, Oxfam responding

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 08 Sep 2017

As the scale of devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean becomes apparent today, Oxfam staff in Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic are preparing to do assessments and respond to people’s needs.

Oxfam’s Tania Escamilla, in Cap Haitien – Haiti’s second biggest city, population 280,000 – with Oxfam’s team, said the organisation worked with authorities to assist evacuations as the category five hurricane bore down on them with wind speeds of up to 285 kilometres per hour.

“I get the sense that people here are used to hurricanes and no-one seems frantically scared, but I’ve heard from many that some areas of the country haven’t even fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew last year – and now they’re facing this huge storm,” Ms Escamilla said.

The Government of Haiti has prepared nearly 800 temporary shelters and, together with Oxfam and other aid agencies, is trying to evacuate as many people as possible away from the coast.

“While many are moving, there are quite a few people who have decided not to evacuate but to stay put instead, fearing they will lose their belongings and home,” she said.

The Oxfam team in Cap Haitien is preparing to mount emergency repairs to water and sanitation facilities, with the Ministry of Public Works.

“Oxfam’s humanitarian and engineering team tell me that although cholera infections are considered low and ’under control’, the disease remains their biggest concern should the storm wreck sanitation infrastructure,” Ms Escamilla said.

“We fear that half a million people could be affected even in the best-case scenario – or as many as 3 million in the worst.”

Ms Escamilla said Cap Haitien had a combination of well-established houses with slums in some areas including along the coast. Haiti’s geography and environment – and poverty – make people extremely vulnerable to flooding and landslides.

“The damage that could likely happen from the winds and storm surge would be devastating for a large part of this city and surrounding towns,” Ms Escamilla said.

In Haiti, Oxfam has moved emergency aid to five locations across the country, three of them in northern areas that were most exposed to the hurricane’s impact. Four specialist emergency response teams have been mobilised and Oxfam has nine cholera response teams prepared to deploy.

Oxfam teams in Dominican Republic and Cuba are also prepared to respond. Oxfam has worked in the Caribbean region for more than 30 years and has experienced teams ready to provide safe water and carry out sanitation and hygiene work for the most vulnerable people after an emergency strikes.

Donations to support Oxfam’s emergency responses can be made online.

For interviews or more information, please contact Dylan Quinnell on 0428 367 318 or dylanq@oxfam.org.au