Before setting its sights on Cuba and South Florida, Tropical Storm Isaac left at least 19 Haitians dead and cut a path of destruction through Jacmel and other southeastern Haitian cities, toppling billboards, partially collapsing roads and burying blown over fruit trees in muddy flood waters.
Residents in this lush, seaside village remained without power and cut off from neighboring mountain hamlets Sunday as the rains from Isaac finally subsided.
“Look at it,” farmer Estlange Cherry, 21, said pointing to his family farm where his father in-law was clearing away fallen plantain and breadfruit trees. “Everything is gone. We weren’t able to save not one tree. The flood waters from the river even took our pregnant goat.”
In rural Haiti, livestock is cash in the bank and farmers’ harvests are often the only income, used to send children to school, buy medication and for food.
In addition to the loss of crops, residents in rural Jacmel remained cut off from others in neighboring mountain towns. The Fesles Marigot Grand River washed away a huge chunk of a road bridging Jacmel and several mountaintop villages.
“This is something that is terrible,” resident Bellande Sanon said, standing on the river’s edge as public buses, known as Tap Taps, were forced to turn back. “Every area on the other side of this river will suffer. These are the areas that provide the most food in the region. Now, hunger will increase.”
In 2008, after four back-to-back storms battered Haiti and the river cut off access to villages dozens, of children became malnourished and some even died.
“Every time government authorities opt not to address the problems of this river, the region will suffer,” Sanon said.
George Ngwa, communications manager for the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said the southeastern region received the brunt of the storm and farmers have lost beans, plantains and other crops.
“Coming after the drought in the north, we are worried it’s likely to have a negative impact on food security,” he said.
On Sunday, 17 damaged assessment teams fanned the country to assess loss of crops and homes throughout the country where 390,000 quake evacuees remained under tents in the quake-battered capital.
Those killed in the storm included a young man who was covered in a landslide in DonDon, a town in northern Haiti, and a 10-year-old girl who was killed when her home collapsed north of Port au Prince.
Marie-Alta Jean-Baptiste, the head of Civil Protection, said the number of deaths could increase as reports from around the country are finalized.
The numbers of storm evacuees and dead, which more than doubled overnight, was in dispute on Sunday. The International Organization for Migration evacuated 1,000 people before the storms. On Saturday, Civil Protection announced that 5,000 were in shelters and on Sunday the numbers had increased to 14,000. Baptiste defended the numbers, saying many had sought shelter even after Issac’s passing.
“Even today, we still had rivers overflowing,” she said. “We have 50 cars parked in front of the Glace River in the Grand Anse because police are preventing them from crossing the river,” she said.
Across the border in the Dominican Republic, two people were confirmed dead and 12,889 people continued to be evacuated from their homes, the Center for Emergency Operations reported. The storm damaged 864 homes, including 51 that were totally destroyed, the government said.
The Dominican government kept ports closed Sunday and warned residents to stay off beaches. Authorities have detained at least 40 people near Santo Domingo’s boardwalk for failing to evacuate the area, local media reported. Authorities were still cleaning up debris left behind by Isaac and trying to restore power and telephone lines to at least 90 communities that are still cut off.
The government also warned residents along the banks of the Ozama River, which cuts through the capital, to be prepared to evacuate as continued rains were swelling the river.
In Cuba, state-run Prensa Latina news agency said there were no deaths but reported sporadic damage throughout the country. Local media said more than 20,000 had to flee their homes, most from the province of Holguín, after the storm cut through the eastern tip of the island.
Most of the damage was reportedly concentrated in the oldest and easternmost town of Baracoa, where at least 89 homes were damaged, including four that collapsed completely.
The eastern province of Tunas also suffered damaged roads. While power and phone lines went down on some parts of the island overnight, electricity had been restored to most neighborhoods Sunday, Prensa Latina reported.
In Havana, local media showed images of choppy seas pouring over the city’s picturesque seawall.
As the storm headed toward Florida, Cuba’s Meteorological Institute warned that both the southern and northern coasts of the island would continue seeing dangerous swells for the next 12 to 24 hours.
In Haiti, some swollen rivers were receding as the rain finally stopped. In Jacmel, the sun came out shortly after 9 a.m. and residents took to the streets and their front yards, clearing fallen trees off their homes and out of roads with machetes and hand saws.
“We are an unlucky people,” said Cilia Duverge, who added that an earlier storm had swallowed her home and now Isaac had taken her farm. “We can’t catch a break.”
Frantz Pierre-Louis, a government official who serves as executive director for the Southeastern region, said things could have been a lot worse.
“What you’re seeing is the result of the work we’ve been doing the past several years to sensitize the people,” he said, commenting on the lack of a larger death toll.
As he surveyed the damage around him, including the eroded beach, his cell phone rang. It was shortly before 11 a.m., and his first contact with Belle Anse, the fishing community high in the mountains cut off by the collapsed road and rough seas.
On the other line: a government official from the area, who was now stranded.
“Do not let people take boats,” Pierre Louis warned.
Staff writer Jim Wyss contributed to this report.