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A Close-Up Look at Southwestern Haiti, Post-Hurricane Matthew

By: Andrew Kennedy and Tracy Kijewski-Correa 3:53 PM GMT on December 16, 2016

Today’s guest post is by Dr. Andrew Kennedy and Dr. Tracy Kijewski-Correa, associate professors in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences at the University of Notre Dame. From November 17 to 25, a reconnaissance team led by Kijewski-Correa visited the most-affected regions and evaluated Matthew’s effects on buildings, infrastructure, and the people of Haiti. Below, Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Kijewski-Correa give us a preliminary account of their trip, which took them to areas seen by relatively few outside observers since the hurricane. We'll be back on Monday with a new post. --Jeff Masters and Bob Henson

On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew made landfall near the town of Les Anglais, Haiti, as a strong Category 4 storm with estimated sustained winds of 145 mph (65 m/s) (Fig. 1). The landfall region in the western Tiburon Peninsula, more than 150 miles west of the capital of Port-au-Prince, sustained extreme damage to buildings and vegetation. The Haitian government reported 546 fatalities from Matthew, while other sources reported at least 1600 unconfirmed deaths. Rainfall in the peninsula was extreme, estimated by NASA to be 10-20 inches over the course of the storm.

Figure 1. (a) Path of Hurricane Matthew over Haiti, showing inset on the western Tiburon Peninsula. (b) Inset of the Tiburon Peninsula, showing locations of figures. The hurricane icon shows the Saffir-Simpson category rating of Matthew at each location. Les Anglais (not shown) is on the southwest coast near the "213" highway icon, about 16 km (10 miles] east of the indicated landfall location. Background maps are from Google Earth.

Some background
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a per-capita GDP of US$846 in 2014. Haiti has many poor people, a few very wealthy families, and a small, weak middle class. Even in the best of times, life is difficult here for most citizens, and these are not the best of times. Except for a few paved national roads that link large cities, many roads are unpaved and often impassable, intercepted by land/rock slides and rivers, and eroded by flash flooding. Four-wheel drive vehicles are necessary in many areas.

Haiti has a largely agricultural economy, historically focused on producing coffee and sugarcane but more recently on exporting oils used in perfumes, bananas, and cocoa. A large portion of the population, particularly in rural areas, survives on subsistence farming, so any interruption to agriculture has immediate impacts on nutrition. Overall, Haiti has little internal resilience to natural disasters and relies on outside aid not just for recovery, but for many of the basic services its citizens require.

Haiti is still recovering from a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010 that killed at least 100,000 people, and perhaps several hundred thousand, in the general region of Port-au-Prince. Fortunately, areas affected by the 2010 Earthquake and Hurricane Matthew had relatively little overlap. All three major hurricane hazards played a significant role in Haiti during Hurricane Matthew: wind, waves/surge, and rainfall/flooding. All areas of the affected regions received strong wind, and most also experienced either saltwater flooding from the ocean, or freshwater flooding from rainfall.

Figure 2. Residential wind damage in housing types serving low, middle and upper class: (a) interior view of low-income home in Bonbon employing traditional Haitian metal hip roof framed with native timber that survived the hurricane thanks to the quick thinking of homeowners who tied framing at multiple locations with ropes and straps to reinforce load path during the storm; (b) side-by-side performance comparison of unreinforced masonry built in Bonbon by a foreign non-governmental organization with higher-quality imported materials (pink home), which survived despite loss of roof whereas neighboring middle-class homes built with locally-manufactured block was completely destroyed; (c) interior view of engineered upper-class home in Port Salut with well-connected metal-framed roof that bowed upward and pulled a two-story unreinforced masonry wall inward. Photo credits: Tracy Kijewski-Correa.

Wind-related storm effects
Strong winds during Matthew caused severe damage to most buildings employing lightweight roofs. Zinc metal roofs, which are used for most of the housing stock in the affected areas, were almost uniformly destroyed, leaving houses open to the elements (Fig. 2). Unconfined masonry walls, which are very common, were often tensioned by the uplift on the roof, making them easy to topple in the Category 4 winds. It was rare to find a metal-roofed building in the most affected areas that had not suffered significant damage. The best-performing buildings were built of heavy concrete block with concrete slab roofs; however, these types of buildings were deathtraps during the 2010 Earthquake.

All of this might seem to suggest that nothing can be done, but a few examples of good design stand out. Chief among them is a medical clinic in Port Salut, which was built according to modern design standards and suffered only minor loss of metal roof panels while buildings around it were severely degraded by the storm (Fig. 3). The night-and-day difference in performance indicates that it is possible to build safely in these regions, although adoption of safer practices for traditional building methods used in Haiti remains an ongoing challenge, overwhelmingly due to the lack of economic resources.

Figure 3. A tale of two medical facilities. Top: minor roof damage to a pediatric clinic in Port Salut, built in 2012, including (a) loss of metal roof panels on main clinic and (b) minor loss of hip flashing on outdoor triage area. Contrast this with the complete loss of the second floor of the main building of Hopital Saint Antoine in Jeremie, built in 1923 (bottom): (c) view from ground level, looking upward and roughly southward at the former location of original unreinforced masonry second floor; (d) view to the north, standing on the remains of floor joists of lost second floor where all unreinforced masonry walls, the wood-framed metal roof, and even floorboards were completely stripped away by strong easterly winds. Image credits: Alexandros Taflanidis, Notre Dame (Fig. 3a,b,d) and Tracy Kijewski-Correa (Fig. 3c).

In addition to building damage, winds uprooted or severely damaged many trees, including valuable coconut palms as well as avocado, breadfruit and mango trees. These will not recover for many years, inflicting not just a severe economic impact to market and export farmers but also eliminating a valuable food source relied on daily for survival by most families in this region. A more immediate concern is the destruction of ground crops such as the root vegetables Haitians call “vive” (life), the loss of bananas and plantains, and the loss of livestock. The staple crops will regrow in months through agricultural aid, but until this time, there is a severe food shortage in some areas that is still not being met. In addition to agricultural crops, the winds blew over many economically-valuable trees, including many fine examples of West Indian mahogany: there do not presently appear to be plans to take these windfalls to market. Opportunistic Haitians are instead planking the trunks into lumber and burning mounds of branches into charcoal – Haiti’s primary fuel source for cooking.

Wave- and surge-related storm effects
In the United States, beachfront regions are generally inhabited by a relatively well-off demographic who have resources to provide some resiliency in the event of a storm. In Haiti, beaches and other coastal areas are often homes for some of the poorest people: they may be fishermen who require daily access to the sea or those forced to low-lying regions as squatters without rights to land. Often, people are reluctant to evacuate in advance of a storm because of concerns about theft. This makes them highly vulnerable to storm surge and waves. Many people who evacuated did so only during the storm after water began to destroy their homes. While many received SMS (text) messages to evacuate, we were told unanimously that these messages never communicated the severity of the storm. Victims explained to us that they had experienced hurricanes before, but always had a home to return to. It was Matthew’s storm surge that took many by surprise.

Figure 4. High-elevation wave runup in a cliffed region near Roche a Bateau. The road here is approximately 17 feet (5.2 meters) above sea level. Photo Credit: A. Kennedy

Waves and storm surge in the Matthew-affected areas reached up to 15 - 25 feet (4.6 - 7.6 meters) above sea level in regions with steep beaches or cliffs (Fig. 4), and 5 - 15 feet (1.5 - 4.6 meters] in areas with more gentle beaches. Based on interviews with local residents, it appears that inundation often took the form of very fast, strong waves similar to those recorded in the Philippines during Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Close to the ocean in the region of strongest inundation, almost all coastal buildings, again largely employing unreinforced masonry, were partially or completely destroyed (Fig. 5). These were often rebuilt into temporary structures from storm debris, salvaged materials, and blue tarp kits distributed by humanitarian agencies. Although exact numbers are still not clear, many thousands of homes and other buildings were completely destroyed by waves and surge, particularly on the southwest coast between Port Salut and Les Anglais. Damage was not as complete, though still significant, on the northern coast.

Figure 5. The remains of a school destroyed by wave runup near Coteau. Photo Credit: A. Kennedy.

Effects of rainfall and inland flooding
The Matthew-affected regions of Haiti received heavy rainfall during and after the storm. This did not cause as much structural damage as other hazards, but it degraded roads, damaged the contents of roof-compromised buildings, flooded entire districts in city centers, and hindered recovery efforts. The two largest of the affected cities, Jeremie and Les Cayes, both experienced inland flooding of around three feet in some downtown areas as the steep mountains outside the cities rapidly deposited their water in flatter coastal areas. Levees were overtopped in some coastal rivers, flooding adjacent areas. In the northern city of Jeremie, rainfall continued for weeks after Matthew: according to residents, this post-storm flooding was worse than that experienced during the storm.

The human cost
One may question if a nation this frail and aid-dependent could ever absorb and recover from two consecutive major disasters, even with sustained international involvement. This recovery will ride largely on the shoulders of individual homeowners, as the impacts of Hurricane Matthew, much like the 2010 Earthquake, have been felt most heavily in the residential sector. It has been six years since the earthquake and the housing sector has yet to recover, with many families in Port-au-Prince and Leogane still inhabiting transitory and informal shelters, struggling over issues of land tenure, and lacking access to mortgages to rebuild. Indeed, homes are often overlooked in disaster risk reduction programming and humanitarian recovery efforts. That was the case in the 2010 Earthquake, and it will be the case again in the wake of Matthew. Those that completely lost their homes will join their countrymen in what may be a decade-long recovery of their homestead. Yet unlike those recovering from a “dry” seismic event, there was little to salvage after Matthew. Its victims often had all that they possessed washed out to sea or completely destroyed by the onslaught of heavy rains.

The story of Matthew’s actual disaster will take decades to unfold. In the short term, Matthew maimed the population with flying debris from metal roofs; incubated mold, disease and infection; destroyed sanitation systems; and inundated water supplies, resulting in a spike in cholera outbreaks. In one swoop, Matthew stripped a region of its agricultural assets, bringing not just the complete disruption of livelihoods but also the potential for famine both in the affected area and in major cities reliant on the peninsula's produce. Even the availability of fish and other marine life has been disrupted due to changes in the coastline.

Moreover, because Matthew swept over a large geographic area far removed from the capital and with frail road access, efforts to assess damage and deliver aid have been challenging. Coupling this geographic disconnect with “Haiti fatigue” among charitable donors, lingering distrust from reports of misappropriated earthquake recovery funds, and the Haitian government's role in limiting channels for disaster relief, one simple fact emerges: Matthew’s victims are struggling and will continue to struggle meeting the basic needs of life for some time to come. The tensions that are boiling in major cities like Les Cayes and Jeremie are a palpable sign of the frustration of Matthew’s victims, even though the losses in these cities pale in comparison to the smaller communities even further west.

Undoubtedly, the Haitian people have shown unparalleled resilience and perseverance in the face of extreme historical, political and natural disasters. Some argue they have had more bad luck than any people should bear. The impacts from the 2010 Earthquake and Hurricane Matthew are so severe that they make one wonder when, or even if, this amazingly resilient nation will be able to fully recover.

How you can help
If you wish to aid the recovery in the south of Haiti, please consider donations to one of these worthy charities working directly with populations in the affected regions:
GoServ Global--please indicate that you would like your donation directed toward recovery in Les Anglais, Haiti
Free the Kids--see Holiday Giving Catalog for donation options directed at agricultural recovery, food and housing

Andrew Kennedy and Tracy Kijewski-Correa, University of Notre Dame

Figure 6. Reconnaissance team (left to right). Back row: Lamarre Presuma (Engineering2Empower, Haiti), Scott Schiff (Applied Technology Council, USA), Onel Dossou (Engineering2Empower, Haiti), David Prevatt (University of Florida, USA), Michael Wilson (Logistics Lead, USA). Front row: Kwasi Perry (UAV Survey Inc., USA), Jac Lubin (Driver, Haiti), Alexandros Taflanidis (University of Notre Dame, USA), Edson Jean (Engineering2Empower, Haiti), Tracy Kijewski-Correa (University of Notre Dame, USA), Gede Jean Benoit (Engineering2Empower, Haiti), Brunie St-Fort (Driver, Haiti) and Andrew Kennedy (University of Notre Dame, USA).


The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Quoting 323. washingaway:

Makes sense, the big guys, ExxonMoble, Shell, Chevron, probably don't have to borrow money.

They steal it by tax evasion.
Quoting 451. washingaway:

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”
Soeren kierkegaard

I don't find that statement particularly compelling. There is no mention of evidence, which is the most important factor involved in being right or wrong.

Being right or wrong without sufficient evidence to support one's opinion is a lucky guess, more or less. Being right or wrong with sufficient evidence almost always allows one to learn from one's mistakes...and also when one is right in many instances.

Don't be afraid to be wrong. Be afraid of being sloppy in reaching any conclusion, right or wrong.
Quoting 502. cRRKampen:

They steal it by tax evasion.

And price gouging, both customers and employees. Never forget gouging, it is its own reward in the business world.
continued severe flooding reported in Fiji
From The Huffington Post:

‘The Trumps’ Is The Spoof Lego Set No One Will Want This Holiday Season

*Tax returns not included.

“The Trumps” Lego set is too close to the truth for comfort. Luckily it’s a spoof.

The Donald Trump-themed toy contains all members of the president-elect’s family in figurine form, who each come with their own Trump Tower.

The bed from where Trump tweets late at night, $100 million in inherited dollars and his own private tanning salon are also included in the set.

There’s a red telephone from where he can call Russian President Vladimir Putin ― and even a full nuclear arsenal. But Trump’s tax returns are not contained.

YouTube channel “The School of Life” posted the parody commercial online Wednesday, and it’s already garnered more than 200,000 views.

Check out the full spoof ad above.
Over Sahara:
It becomes official today.
The Trumps Lego set is too close to the truth for comfort

37F Windy and cloudy on da Bayou Grande
Quoting 291. washingaway:

Maybe climate change deniers should try a deferent approach, instead attacking the science, embrace it. Global warming is a good thing. We can make every state as warm as Florida. CO2- good, winter-bad.

Sarcasm on.
No sarcasm needed, warmth is always preferred, then the cold miserable winters up in the far North. You see a lot more people moving South then North, unfortunately.
FL hottest in the US and in some cases even North America as a whole. Sanford near me hit 91 hottest ever recorded, Orlando 88 just 2 degrees shy of a record, and Daytona Beach 86 set a new record. Also there was a heat index which reached the mid to upper 90's across C FL. Very hot and unprecedented for December.
Quoting 494. swflurker:

Fort Myers warmed to 88%uFFFD on Sunday setting a new record high temperature for December 18th. The temperature reading beats the old record of 85%uFFFD that had stood since 1967.

This makes for the second consecutive day a high-temperature reading will go down in the record book for Fort Myers. On Saturday, the high temperature hit 86%uFFFD. That's warm enough to tie the record high for December 17th last recorded in 1956!

BTW, forecast here says high of 89 for tomorrow!

Yesterday afternoon was actually uncomfortable. I was outside about 4pm and I got really hot and I started sweating. It reminded me of a Summer day. Heat index approached 100 degrees at times yesterday afternoon.
We need to drop the temperature about 10 degrees and lower the humidity. A little bit of rain would also be helpful. We've had 1 rain shower in over 2 months with 0.0" of rain for November. Everything (grass, flowers, bushes, etc) not being watered regularly is dead.
Quoting 513. Sfloridacat5:

Yesterday afternoon was actually uncomfortable. I was outside about 4pm and I got really hot and I started sweating. It reminded me of a Summer day.
We need to drop the temperature about 10 degrees and lower the humidity. A little bit of rain would also be helpful. We've had 1 rain shower in over 2 months with 0.0" of rain for November. Everything (grass, flowers, bushes, etc) not being watered regularly is dead.

This heat is on a whole another level. Infact unprecedented. as we have temps that actually surpassed 90 in some places yesterday around Orlando. Heat index was even near 100. I mean this just isn't even funny infact the heat caught tourist off guard at the Theme parks as some were treated for heat related illnesses.
misting and 36F now
Here's today's forecast highs for S.W. Florida.

Quoting 515. PensacolaDoug:

misting and 36F now

76 here near Orlando. LOL! Mist as well but more like a sauna mist.
Slidell reporting light snow?!
Good morning abroad. Below wome reports of the worsening weather in the western part of the Mediterranean where a medicane (tropical-like system in the Mediterranean) is likely to form (see post #412)

Emergency measures in place as downpour makes Spanish rivers overflow
The Local, news@thelocal.es, 19 December 2016

Severe flooding and 90kph winds as Med storm strikes Mallorca
Matthew Elliott, Mallorca, 19 December 2016

Man hurt by flying plank of wood as strong winds batter Malta
Times of Malta, Monday, December 19, 2016, 11:33 by Philip Leone Ganado

Airmasses today at noon UTC with the center of the storm forming at the lower left side of the pic between the coasts of Algeria and Spain.

Quoting 518. PensacolaDoug:

Slidell reporting light snow?!

Sleet near Mobile based off some of the radar indications.
Extraordinary high pressure of 30.72in. in coastal southern Delaware. Highest reading of the year on my Davis Vantage Pro2.
Quoting 520. StormTrackerScott:

Sleet near Mobile based off some of the radar indications.

Mobile, Mobile Regional Airport (KMOB) 32F. Fog/Mist

There is a very light radar return that has that feathery appearance to the north of Mobile Bay that is very indicative of a potential mini snow-band.
Quoting 513. Sfloridacat5:

Yesterday afternoon was actually uncomfortable. I was outside about 4pm and I got really hot and I started sweating. It reminded me of a Summer day. Heat index approached 100 degrees at times yesterday afternoon.
We need to drop the temperature about 10 degrees and lower the humidity. A little bit of rain would also be helpful. We've had 1 rain shower in over 2 months with 0.0" of rain for November. Everything (grass, flowers, bushes, etc) not being watered regularly is dead.

Quoting 508. PensacolaDoug:

It becomes official today.
Yes: The Republic is over; the American experiment has failed, and is now ended. But at least it was fun while it lasted.
JeffMasters has created a new entry.
Quoting 497. BaltimoreBrian:

A googleplex is 1 followed by a google of zeroes.

That was my second choice. My Dad taught me that, about 55 years ago, but it's hard to remember such big, unused numbers.
I figured someone would answer that one.
Yeah, but it's a googolplex. ;-)
Quoting 524. Neapolitan:

Yes: The Republic is over; the American experiment has failed, and is now ended. But at least it was fun while it lasted.
No wonder folks don't want y'all running the country. So negative and its always doom and gloom. Pet a puppy dude.
Quoting 415. washingtonian115:

Absolutely worthless.I didn't have high expectations for this Winter anyway.I'am patently awaiting to see what next hurricane season has in store in terms of the Atlantic and rather or not we are still in the active phase or not.

Winter isn't over. Glad the ice happened on a saturday or the DC metro commute would have been an unholy mess!.
Hello, is this site down?