Haiti lashed by heavy rains that leave 23 dead

In a deadly start to the Atlantic hurricane season, at least 23 people are dead in earthquake-ravaged Haiti after pelting rain carved paths of destruction across much of this still-broken capital late Monday and Tuesday.

The rains triggered flash floods and mudslides, causing roofs to collapse and debris to be dumped on roads that became rivers of mud. The storm was the worst yet after 10 consecutive days of steady showers.

The deaths and destruction came just a week into the official start of hurricane season, underscoring how vulnerable Haiti remains both from stormy weather and a deadly cholera outbreak that has so far left more than 5,300 dead and thousands hospitalized in recent weeks.

“The great vulnerability of both Port-au-Prince and the country as a whole is clearly evident in the aftermath of this most recent storm,’’ said Alcé Jean-Baptiste, Haiti emergency and human security coordinator for ActionAid, an anti-poverty agency working in several camps for earthquake victims.

In Port-au-Prince, several dozen people had to be evacuated by U.N. peacekeepers after their squalid tent encampment became flooded. And in the town of Gressier, south of the capital and near the city of Leogane, residents were forced to take refuge on rooftops after flood waters engulfed the community, according to civil protection authorities.

After the rains subsided Tuesday, Haitian and foreign disaster officials drove around the capital and nearby southern cities to assess damages and provide hygiene kits in hopes of preventing a further spike in cholera, a waterborne-disease.

ActionAid called for better coordination between the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Haitian government and nongovernmental organizations to prevent further disaster this hurricane season. The new devastation, ActionAid said, highlights the need for newly elected President Michel Martelly to immediately implement a long-term housing strategy for Haitians, hundreds of thousands of whom remain under flimsy tents and tarps nearly 17 months after a catastrophic earthquake.

“Disaster mitigation must be prioritized not only in Port-au-Prince, but in vulnerable communities throughout the country that are at risk of severe flooding,’’ Elise Young, an analyst with ActionAid, told The Miami Herald.

Even before last year’s 7.0 earthquake, Haiti was vulnerable to rain because of its barren mountain sides, neglected infrastructure and trash-clogged canals. Four back-to-back storms in 2008 left dozens of children in the town of Cabaret dead after two swollen rivers overran their banks, and the city of Gonaives became buried underneath millions of cubic meters of mud. Four years earlier, more than 3,000 Haitians died in Gonaives when Tropical Storm Jeanne flooded the city.

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