Tropical Storm Grace drenching Haiti as quake death toll tops 1,400

Grace regained tropical storm strength early Tuesday and was dumping extremely heavy rains and causing flooding across parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Those two nations share the island of Hispaniola.

Grace lashed earthquake-damaged Haiti as a tropical depression on Monday with up to 10 inches of rain. It pelted people huddling in fields and searching for survivors.

The storm couldn’t have come at a worse time for Haitians struggling to deal with the effects of Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude temblor.

Forecasters said Grace was moving near or over the Tiburon Peninsula of Haiti early Tuesday on a forecast track expected to take it between southeastern Cuba and Jamaica by Tuesday afternoon. It had top sustained winds of 40 mph and was headed west at 14 mph.

APTOPIX Haiti Earthquake
People affected by Saturday’s earthquake stand under the rain of Tropical Depression Grace at a refugee camp in Les Cayes, Haiti, on August 16, 2021. Grace later strengthened into a tropical storm. Joseph Odelyn / AP

The Miami-based hurricane center said Grace could be near hurricane strength when it approaches Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula late Wednesday or early Thursday.

The drenching rains in Haiti came just two days after the powerful quake battered the impoverished Caribbean nation, adding to the misery of thousands who lost loved ones, suffered injuries or found themselves homeless and forcing overwhelmed hospitals and rescuers to act quickly.

After nightfall, heavy rain and strong winds whipped at the country’s southwestern area, hit hardest by Saturday’s quake, and officials warned that rainfall could reach 15 inches in some areas before the storm moved on. Port-au-Prince, the capital, also saw heavy rains.

The storm arrived on the same day that the country’s Civil Protection Agency raised the death toll from the earthquake to 1,419 and the number of injured to 6,000, many of whom have had to wait for medical help lying outside in wilting heat.

Officials said the magnitude 7.2 earthquake left more than 7,000 homes destroyed and nearly 5,000 damaged from the quake, leaving some 30,000 families homeless. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches also were destroyed or badly damaged.

Grace’s rain and wind raised the threat of mudslides and flash flooding.

APTOPIX Haiti Earthquake
People affected by Saturday’s earthquake walk under the heavy rain of Tropical Depression Grace at a refugee camp in Les Cayes, Haiti, on August 16, 2021. Grace later intensified and became a tropical storm. Joseph Odelyn / AP

The quake nearly wrecked some towns in the southwest in the latest disaster to befall the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Haitians already were struggling with the coronavirus pandemic, gang violence, worsening poverty and the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

“We are in an exceptional situation,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry told reporters Monday afternoon as the storm approached.

A hospital in the badly damaged town of Les Cayes was so crowded with patients after the earthquake that many had to lie in patios, corridors, verandas and hallways, but the approaching storm had officials scrambling to relocate them as best they could.

“We had planned to put up tents (in hospital patios), but we were told that could not be safe,” said Gede Peterson, director of Les Cayes General Hospital.

“We are working now to ensure that the resources we have are going to get to the places that are hardest hit,” said Civil Protection Agency head Jerry Chandler, referring to the towns of Les Cayes and Jeremie and the department of Nippes.

Haiti Quake Death Toll Nears 1,300 as U.S. Deploys Search Teams
Residents search for valuable metals in the rubble of a collapsed hotel in Les Cayes, Haiti, on August 16, 2021. The U.S. deployed search and rescue teams to help find survivors among the debris of collapsed buildings in Haiti as the death toll soared from Saturdays massive earthquake. Jonathan Alpeyrie / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Quake victims continued to stream to Les Cayes’ overwhelmed general hospital, waiting on stair steps, in corridors and on an open veranda.

As work, fuel and money ran out, desperate Les Cayes residents searched collapsed houses for scrap metal to sell. Others waited for money wired from abroad, a mainstay of Haiti’s economy even before the quake.

Structural engineers from Miyamoto International, a global earthquake and structural engineering firm, visited hard-hit areas Monday to help with damage assessment and urban search and rescue efforts. Chief among their duties was inspecting government water towers and the damaged offices of charities in the region, said CEO and president Kit Miyamoto.

Miyamoto said he’s seen places devastated by earthquakes build back stronger. He said the destruction in Port-au-Prince from the 2010 tremor led masons and others to improve their building practices. People in the capital felt the Saturday morning tremor centered about 75 miles to the west and rushed into the streets in fear but there weren’t any reports of damage there.

“Port-au-Prince building is much better than it was in 2010 – I know that,” Miyamoto said. “It’s a huge difference, but that knowledge is not widespread. The focus is definitely on Port-au-Prince.”