Officials rush to relocate thousands before rains
CORAIL-CESSELESSE, Haiti – The first of 50,000 earthquake victims that officials fear are most threatened by Haiti’s looming rainy season were relocated Saturday as nonprofit groups scrambled to receive them.
Adults and children living at the Petionville golf course walked up a steep hill with their belongings and climbed into buses that rumbled off to yet another temporary home.
They wore yellow wristbands that indicated their departure time and new neighborhood: Corail-Cesselesse, an extremely dry and dusty area about nine miles north of Port-au-Prince.
Among them were Elvina Serin and her four brothers, who got repeated calls from United Nations officials reminding them to leave Saturday.
“They told us we were going to have water and bathrooms and that there’s going to be a school nearby,” Serin said with a smile.
She is one of the 7,500 people that U.N. and U.S. officials recommended be relocated within 10 days because they are at high risk of flooding or mudslides in the makeshift camps at the Petionville golf course.
A dozen families were moved Saturday, and 250 families are scheduled to be relocated today as the first of a total of 6,000 people to be shifted to the new camp over the next two weeks, according to aid groups.
“It has been a challenge because we’ve had less than a week to prepare,” said Laura Bank, a spokeswoman for World Vision.
The Caribbean is bracing for what some forecasts predict will be a more-active-than-usual hurricane season, and Haiti is extremely vulnerable to floods and mudslides because of widespread deforestation and erosion.
Officials say the rush to beat the rainy season led to the hastily built camp in Corail-Cesselesse that offers minimal living conditions. Oxfam barely had time to install latrines before the first families arrived Saturday, Bank said.
Oxfam, World Vision and CARE criticized the Haitian government for its lack of planning in a joint statement.
“We realize this is an emergency relocation due to impending rains and we are moving with utmost urgency to prepare this site,” said Marcel Stoessel, head of Oxfam’s operations in Haiti. “But future moves cannot be done in this last-minute fashion.”
Humanitarian groups need time to ensure that people have access to food, water, toilets and safe shelter, he said.
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