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Heavy Rain Briefly Halts Haiti Rescue, Aid Efforts


People affected by Saturday's earthquake recover their belongings under the rain of Tropical Depression Grace at a refugee camp in Les Cayes, Haiti, Aug. 16, 2021.

Days after a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, heavy rain brought rescue operations to a brief halt and slowed aid agencies' response, and Haiti's Civil Protection Agency raised the death toll to nearly 2,000, with nearly 10,000 injured.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake damaged or destroyed about 12,000 homes, along with hospitals, schools and churches, officials said. More than 30,000 families are without shelter.

Through Tuesday, Tropical Storm Grace was forecast to drop as much as 38 centimeters (15 inches) of rain on southern Haiti, bringing flooding and the threat of landslides, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

"Countless Haitian families who have lost everything due to the earthquake are now living literally with their feet in the water due to the flooding," Bruno Maes, the UNICEF representative in Haiti, told Reuters.

Search and rescue efforts, suspended during the storm, resumed Tuesday, performed mostly by residents and volunteers, often poorly equipped.

"All we have are sledgehammers and hands. That's the plan," Canadian volunteer Randy Lodder, director of the Adoration Christian School in Haiti, told the Associated Press.

A man walks on the rubble of a collapsed hotel the morning after Tropical Storm Grace swept over Port Salut, Haiti, Aug. 17, 2021, three days after a 7.2 magnitude quake.
A man walks on the rubble of a collapsed hotel the morning after Tropical Storm Grace swept over Port Salut, Haiti, Aug. 17, 2021, three days after a 7.2 magnitude quake.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has people on the ground, and the U.S. Southern Command said it was sending eight helicopters from Honduras and seven U.S. Coast Guard cutters to support the USAID team. Two cutters have arrived, along with two Coast Guard helicopters and U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft that are taking aerial images of earthquake-devastated areas, the AP reported.

John Morrison, public information officer for the Fairfax County (Virginia) Urban Search and Rescue, told the AP its team has "not yet found any signs of persons alive trapped in buildings." Two U.S. Coast Guard helicopters had ferried searchers to six stricken communities on Monday.

Hospitals have been struggling. Petersen Gede, the director of the main hospital at Les Cayes, said more doctors and supplies were needed. Injured people who had camped outside were moved inside or into tents to escape the rain.

Some 540,000 children were among the 1.2 million people affected by the earthquake in Haiti, UNICEF said Tuesday.

UNICEF said Tuesday's heavy rains from Tropical Storm Grace are "further disrupting access to water, shelter and other basic services."

"Flooding and mudslides are likely to worsen the situation of vulnerable families and further complicate the humanitarian response," the agency said.

UNICEF said it delivered three months of medical supplies for 30,000 victims to three hospitals just hours after the earthquake hit.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement Tuesday that the world body was "on the ground" in Haiti and had "allocated $8 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to provide essential health care, clean water, emergency shelter and sanitation for all affected people."

Guterres said relief convoys had arrived in the affected communities of Les Cayes, Jeremie and Nippes on Tuesday.

The quake was centered near the town of Petit-Trou-de-Nippes, about 125 kilometers west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, at a depth of 10 kilometers, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

It damaged buildings, roads and bridges on the country's southwest peninsula and, displaced thousands of people. The streets of towns near the epicenter were lined with concrete as rescue workers and scrap metal salvagers dug through the rubble.

The Dominican Republic and Mexico were among the countries that sent food and medicine to Haiti. Cuba dispatched a 235-member health care team.

Some material for this article came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.