Hurricane Sandy bears down on eastern seaboard, Haiti still not ready for the storm
Hurricane Sandy is headed toward the eastern seaboard of the U.S., New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already ordered schools closed for tomorrow, and Sandy’s death toll in Haiti has risen to 44.
Johnathan Katz, the AP’s Haiti correspondent for three-and-a-half years spanning both sides of the January 2010 earthquake, commented on the storm via an excerpt from his forthcoming book about the world’s response to the disaster, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster:
But it’s now, in the ample time between emergencies, when the heaviest lifting has to be done. The issue is less with some organizations having more know-how than others; it’s that the whole system needs to be overhauled, and not just when it comes to aid. Poverty and a lack of local institutions create the shoddy conditions that make disasters deadlier than they have to be. Few of us ever do enough to prepare—even in places like New York that could afford to make necessary investments to guard against floods, hurricanes—and, yes, earthquakes—today. But in impoverished countries the failure to plan, and to have institutions that can coordinate a response, threatens millions of lives. Supporting efforts to give aid directly to local governments, and building local institutions that operate independently of foreign control will go exponentially further than cargo planes of tarps and bottled water. It’s true that we don’t always know what locals will do with that assistance, but that’s the point. It’s up to them.
The most striking visual I’ve seen of the storm’s effects so far is from footage taken by reporters for Le Nouvelliste at the Rivière Grise, near the Croix-des-Missions bridge on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The river swells like it’s a smaller and muddier brother of the Mississippi every time it rains heavily. Water surges toward its banks and carves them up like a melon baller sliding through an overripe cantaloupe. This time it claimed some of the cube-shaped cement-block houses and shops that were sited too close to its edge—foundations and walls plopped into the current and then swept downstream toward the Caribbean—as are most residents in the area who have little other option than to live in what’s too low-lying a place to be called a floodplain. It starts at around 2:15 in the video below:
New York may not be ready for Sandy. There’s no telling when Haiti will be.