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In Haiti, A Fear of the Water

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Leogane, Haiti -- Thelervilts used to own a modest, but comfortable house by the sea. Then the 7.0 earthquake hit on January 12, rendering his house to a skeleton of concrete and rebar. He picked up the pieces, building a new shop from scratch and repairing his home with tarps and wood.

Now, nine months later, his broken home was destroyed once again -- this time by floods following Hurricane Tomas, which battered the island on November 5 and 6. Mud now covers Thelervilts' floors and only jagged stepping stones dot the way to his house through murky waters.

"I tried to protect my house," he said, pointing at some mud-caked sandbags in the corner. "But the waters washed the sandbags away."

I met Thelervilts just one day after nearly half of Leogane was deluged by water. The epicenter of the January earthquake, Leogane was also the hardest hit area by Hurricane Tomas. The local hospital had to be evacuated and 2,000 people were moved to higher ground. In Cada, a small town in Leogane where Thelervilts lives with his wife and children, flood waters still had not receded when International Medical Corps' Emergency Response Team visited on Saturday. Residents waded through knee-deep waters and hung their belongings out to dry on bushes.

"I have it lucky," says Thelervilts. "Many of my neighbors step into water when they get out of bed."

Following Hurricane Tomas, International Medical Corps sent assessment teams staffed with medical, nutrition, and water and sanitation experts to Cada and other badly hit areas in Leogane, Port-au-Prince, Nippes, and Petit Goave. The teams distributed hygiene kits and blankets and found that potable water and sanitation facilities are desperately needed in flooded areas to avoid outbreaks of waterborne illness, like cholera.

The water is Thelervilts' number one concern. "I wish someone could block the flow," he said. "I would, but I do not have the resources to do so."

With a cholera outbreak now reported in six of Haiti's 10 provinces, Thelervilts has reason to be concerned. Following Tomas, cases of cholera started to spike in Artibonite, the region in north-central Haiti where the cholera outbreak began. Haitians seeking treatment poured into Robateau Hospital in Gonaives. While it is hard to link the recent increase in cases directly to Hurricane Tomas, the flooding and physical damage following the storm complicates the response. Many areas are more difficult to access and flooding has likely contaminated food and water sources.

International Medical Corps continues to respond to new outbreaks of cholera in Haiti, with a Cholera Response Team setting up a new Cholera Treatment Center (CTC) to support Robateau Hospital and preparing its clinics in Port-au-Prince to handle and refer cases. Following Tomas, International Medical Corps' Cholera Response Teams also ferried medicines and supplies across a river to reach cholera patients.

For Thelervilts down in Leogane, he fears the water will spread disease. "Look at that baby," he says, motioning to a small child sitting on an island of mud. "I think everyone here can get very sick from the water."

Thelervilts assures me he and his family only drink the bottled water he sells in his shop. But not everyone has the resources to only drink bottled water and almost no one in Cada, or much of Leogane and other flooded areas, can bathe, cook, or clean without using their usual water sources, which may now be contaminated.

As if to confirm his worry, a man wades up to a well just off of Thelervilts' home and dips his bucket into the brown water. When asked what he plans to do with the water, his answer: "Bathing."

You can support International Medical Corps' Emergency Response to Hurricane Tomas and cholera by visiting InternationalMedicalCorps.org or texting HAITI to 85944.