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Assessing The Damage After Hurricane Matthew Hits Haiti


We're going to turn now to Haiti where people are still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew which made landfall there on Monday. Tens of thousands of people were displaced because their homes were destroyed. The death toll is in the hundreds and is growing. U.N. officials are calling it Haiti's worst humanitarian crisis since the earthquake that struck six years ago. We wanted to hear more, so we reached Joshua Partlow. He's Mexico City bureau chief for The Washington Post, but he was able to get to Les Cayes, Haiti, which is on the south on the Caribbean coast. Joshua, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So what is the extent of the damage that you've seen so far? And we're hearing very different casualty figures. So can you shed some light on that as well?

PARTLOW: Yeah, sure. And the extent of the damage from what I've seen has been pretty massive. I flew into the country from the Dominican Republic on a helicopter with a medical group a couple of days ago. And you could see a lot of houses had been destroyed, roofs torn off, I mean, thousands. There's a lot of flooding along the southern coast of Haiti. You could see signs of the storm surge. And in the towns I've explored since, on the ground, I mean, it's just only looked worse.

I'm in Les Cayes, which is one of the main towns along the southern coast. But in the remote villages all up and down the coast, there are these palm tree groves, and the trees have been knocked over by the wind and smashed these houses that are, you know, made of cinder blocks with tin roofs or sometimes thatch huts. So there's a lot of devastation. There're roads that have been washed out and blocked by trees, and there have been bridges that have been washed out as well. So it's hard to access a lot of these areas.

MARTIN: What is the government saying as far as loss of life, and why are there different figures coming out?

PARTLOW: The death toll has been rising pretty much every day since the storm. Right now the government has confirmed about 400 deaths. A news organization has published their own independent tally that puts it more than 800. It's just hard to determine because I've heard estimates that half a million people just along the southern coastline haven't even been reached outsiders yet because their towns and villages are cut off, you know, only accessible by helicopter, basically. And the phone lines have been cut as well, so communication is difficult. So that's why you're not seeing a good solid number about how many people have died in the storm.

MARTIN: Now, you mentioned that you were able to fly in with a medical aid group. Are aid and relief efforts able to get underway at this point?

PARTLOW: There have been some. There are supplies coming in. The Western aid groups have given medicine to some clinics, but no, I mean, it's not a very robust relief effort so far. I mean, people are - who have been - had their homes destroyed - are now staying in makeshift shelters. I was in a school today where more than 1,200 hundred people are camping out. I mean, all of them that I talked to said their homes were damaged or destroyed. They've had one shipment of rice at the school in a week, they said. And one presidential candidate is here, who's known as - he's a banana businessman - had delivered a truckload of bananas. So you know, there's - they're hungry, people are worried about cholera, people are worried about fresh water. So it's really elemental needs at this point.

MARTIN: Haiti had been scheduled to hold elections this Sunday, as I understand it. What is going to happen with that?

PARTLOW: Yeah, so the election got postponed after the storm, and there's no date that's been set for a new election at this point. That presidential candidate I talked about - Jovenel Moise - he had arrived in Les Cayes yesterday. He toured the South and then delivered some food and fruit, like I mentioned, to some people down here. He's one of the leading candidates. He was hoping that the election will happen as soon as possible. But, you know, he fears that the government will postpone the election indefinitely, and there's already been, you know, more than a year of uncertainty about who the elected president is here.

MARTIN: Joshua Partlow is the Mexico City bureau chief for The Washington Post. He was able to get Les Cayes, Haiti, and we reached him there. Mr. Partlow, thanks so much for speaking with us.

PARTLOW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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