Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Hurricane Sandy ripped through Cuba and Haiti last week before it reached the United States, destroying livelihoods and infrastructure with its high winds, heavy rains and flooding. ShelterBox has been identifying emergency shelter needs in the three affected countries for the thousands of impacted families.
Sandy made landfall in Southeast Cuba on 25 October with winds of about 177 kilometres per hour, only 1.5 kilometres per hour below the status of a major Category 3 hurricane. It damaged around 200,000 houses, including 50,000 that lost their roofs, and destroyed over 15,000 homes, affecting about 1.1 million people, according to the latest United Nations (UN) estimations. At least 11 lives were also lost.
Cuba is frequently lauded by the UN as being one of the best prepared countries in terms of natural disasters: its highly developed meteorological service, early warning system and regularly practiced drills have probably saved thousands of lives. However, buildings were in poor repair before the storm due to lack of funds and materials, and they were therefore vulnerable to damage.
Lack of electricity and poor communications have hampered efforts to get reliable information about the full extent of the damage in the Caribbean country. A ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) has arrived in country to assess the need for emergency aid.
'Like a bomb site'
SRT member Mark Stephenson (UK) is part of the two-person team:
'We are beginning our efforts in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba's second largest city, which President Raul Castro described as looking like a bomb site. We will then look in areas of mountainous terrain, as there has been strong potential for flash floods and mudslides.'
Haiti was struck before Cuba on 24 October, where Sandy poured down more than 50 centimetres inches of rain over three days, causing flooding and mudslides and leaving more than 50 people dead.
Low-lying communities in western Haiti that were still recovering from damage caused by Tropical Storm Isaac in August are the worst affected areas, according to various reports.
Some villages have been destroyed in the floods and there is a threat of cholera spreading due to unsanitary conditions.
ShelterBox’s Operations department has been in contact with Haiti's Government as well as other operational partners to assess the need for emergency shelter. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is storing prepositioned ShelterBoxes in country for ShelterBox in case they are needed.
Each ShelterBox not only contains a disaster relief tent but also a LifeStraw, which is an easy-to-use portable water filter that effectively removes all bacteria and parasites responsible for causing common diarrhoeal diseases, including cholera.
If a need does arise, an SRT will be deployed immediately to make assessments.
United States bore full force
The United States bore the full force of Hurricane Sandy, where it expanded into a huge storm with winds covering a distance of about 1,610 kilometres.
'You just don’t see this kind of stuff,' Keith Blackwell, a meteorologist at the University of South Alabama’s Coastal Weather Research Center in Mobile, told National Geographic News. 'It’s so strong and so large.'
On the evening of 29 October, Sandy's winds, rains and flooding battered New Jersey and New York throughout the night, before inflicting punishment on the Northeast of the country. It weakened as it moved inland over Pennsylvania the following day.
An SRT is being deployed to the affected areas to assess if there are unmet emergency shelter needs that can be addressed by the ShelterBox solution.