Thursday, 4 November 2010

Haitians celebrate the Day of the Dead as Hurricane Tomas approaches

November 1 and 2 are public holidays in Haiti, to celebrate what is known as The Day of the Dead. In Europe many Catholic countries do a similar thing on 1 November, All Saints Day, when they go to mass to honour the saints and then to graveyards to pay respect to their dead family members. All Saints is also known as All Hallows, and so the eve is commonly referred to as Halloween. For Haitians the Day of the Dead has great significance and for two nights the celebrations have continued until deep into the darkness.

Haitians celebrated the Day of the Dead amid rumours of the approaching Hurricane Tomas - Photo: C. Martinelli
 But there’s another story that’s also concerning much of the population of this island – the approach of hurricane Tomas. We first heard about it last Friday and rumours had it that it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Whatever, tropical storm or hurricane, it is something that Haiti does not need right now.

Unhygienic living conditions will be made worse by heavy rains - Photo: Hilary Atkins

With 1.3 million people living in tents and a cholera epidemic that spreads through contaminated water, a hurricane is the last thing the Haitians want. The SOS Children’s Villages, both in Santo and Cap Haitian are solidly built and should protect both the children and their mothers; for those living in temporary accommodation, however, it could be a different story.

Makeshift shelters will offer little to no protection from the hurricane - Photo: Georg Willeit
 The last we heard of hurricane Tomas it was about 295 miles (almost 500 kilometres) south-southwest of Haiti, with 45 mph sustained winds. If it does hit Haiti it will be around Thursday or Friday, but projections show that it could miss the island altogether. Either way, relief agencies running displacement camps are making contingency plans and bracing themselves for the worst.

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