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Gonaives Girds for Heavy Storm Season

August 24, 2010

Gonaives Girds for Heavy Storm Season


By Wadner Pierre

GONAIVES, Aug 2, 2010 (IPS) - Gonaives, the third largest city in Haiti, is rushing to prepare for an expected highly active hurricane season. The city was flooded by three hurricanes in the past six years - Hannah and Ike in 2008, and Jeanne, which killed at least 2,500 people in 2004.

While progress has been made in the recovery from those disasters, Gonaives - which was largely spared by the Jan. 12 earthquake - remains extremely vulnerable to new hurricanes.

Reconstruction of parts of the highway crossing the city was only recently completed. When this reporter visited Gonaives last year, the population was upset with the state of the dusty road, although Estrella, a Dominican construction company, has since fixed large portions of it.
Some locations that were routinely inundated with filthy water have been rebuilt. Last year, it might have taken a pedestrian almost 10 minutes to traverse the intersection in front of the Gonaives National Police headquarters after one hour of rain.

Belmour Myriam, a middle-aged woman, is working on drainage of the Biennac canal, which channels water from east of Gonaives to the ocean. Cleaning the canal has been a five- month project of USAID.

"I live in Baby Street," she told IPS. "Six years after the hurricane, my street is still not cleaned up. We have received no aid or attention from either local authorities or NGOs. We are alone in Baby Street."

"There is little change. We have power almost twenty-four- seven, and Avenue des Dattes is almost done. That's all," she added.

Traffic on the highway is bustling. But smaller neighbourhood streets were destroyed by the flooding. Many remain damaged, unpaved and dirty.
Ferd Florial, a motorcycle taxi driver, depends on the roads to make a living. "Everything is okay, the road construction, the power, except the road Biennac, which is a rocky and flooded road. Now we taxi drivers can breathe easier because we don't need to change tires and tubes almost every day," he said.
Access to education is limited for children in Haiti, but in Gonaives the situation was aggravated by hurricanes.
"There is a crisis in education here in Gonaives," said Morancy Milius, a graduate law student working as a teacher. "The teachers who have been working for many years have not yet paid. Other teachers are still waiting for their nominated letters. Everything is politics here," he said.
A Venezuelan flag flies over the local power station, a sign of the Venezuelan government's investment in the city. "Thanks to Venezuela, we in Gonaives have no problem for power," Milius said.

The scars of the hurricanes are still visible. Mosquitoes and other health risks from standing floodwater remain challenges. Block after block dirt and debris are piled next to damaged houses.
"I came after Hannah and Ike, there was a lot of filthy water here, now it's getting better. The future of my business is more promising because of the reconstruction of the road," said Sergo Jean Phillipe, a cloth-maker whose business is on Avenue des Dattes.

Residents of Gonaives are psychologically scarred as well. More than 3,000 people were killed in as the storms struck the city one after another.

"People in Gonaives are still traumatised," Dorcely Dieumery, a community leader who lives in Detour Laborde, told IPS. "Anytime it's going to rain, we have to figure out where we are going to stay. We need things go a little bit faster."

When Hurricane Jeanne hit Gonaives in 2004, humanitarian groups and U.N. peacekeeping troops directed the relief effort. The eastern part of the city's monument to Haitian independence is still occupied by U.N. soldiers. Now camouflaged U.S. military Humvees roam the city. The Department of Defence has stationed the USS Iwo Jima off the coast, poised to respond to hurricanes.

U.N. agencies like the World Food Programme, as well as the International Organisation for Migration, the Red Cross and Red Crescent are also working hard to prepare for the worst, with food distribution plans that include using a barge service if the roads are washed out.

Gonaivians are hopeful that if disaster strikes again, their situation will not be as terrible as it was for the past three hurricanes.

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