As Hurricane Irma churns through the Caribbean north of Hispaniola, Partners In Health staff in Haiti watch the skies preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best.
Rain has been falling over the Central Plateau since the predawn hours, according to Dr. Paul Farmer, a Partners In Health co-founder and chief strategist, who’s weathering the storm there. Farmer spoke at noon today with PIH leadership in Haiti, whom he said sounded confident about staff preparations and optimistic that the country might escape a direct blow from the Category 5 storm.
Irma’s path through the Caribbean has been erratic so far, having leveled much of the island of St. Martin and largely spared Puerto Rico, for example.
Farmer said the biggest concern for Zanmi Lasante, as PIH is known locally, is how aging infrastructure will weather the potential 180 mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains. Clinics and hospitals in Hinche, Belladère, and St. Marc are at least 80 years old, he said, and not built to withstand such fierce tropical storms. St. Marc, which lies at sea level on the west coast, is expected to see storm surges over the course of the day.
PIH hospital staff are primarily concerned about a spike in cholera cases, trauma from road accidents, and tetanus caused by cuts from flying debris. University Hospital in Mirebalais will serve as a reference for all severe cases throughout the country and is currently staffed to handle mass casualties of up to 40 people at once.
Staff morale is good, Farmer said. For better or worse, they have gained valuable experience after enduring numerous hurricanes, earthquakes, and other disasters in Haiti over the past decade.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Zanmi Lasante is the strongest institution, medical or otherwise, in Central and Artibonite, Haiti,” Farmer said. “We have the biggest staff, the most resources, and the most allies in the United States and elsewhere.
The next 12 hours will test the team’s strength as it continues to prepare for Hurricane Irma’s worst.