Friday, 5 November 2010

Waiting for the hurricane

4 November; 14:00

Ever since I arrived in Haiti on 24 October I have woken early to clear, deep blue skies. The heat of the day has been intense and the humidity crushing. But today was different. The wind blew hard most of last night and when I woke at 06:00 it seemed dark and cooler, although light comes around 05:30.
Dark skies over Haiti - Photo: C. Martinelli
The lack of light was caused by ominous heavy clouds, which were low enough to cover the tops of the distant hills, and thick enough to envelop the intermittent jets taking off from the international airport. The reason for the wind is more technical and has something to do with Hurricane Tomas, which has been battering the Caribbean, either as a hurricane or tropical storm.
An Internet source shows Tomas’s current location 500 miles south west of Port au Prince, with wind speeds of 50 mph (just over 80 km/h), and projects it heading towards Cuba. Despite this the wind is getting stronger and the sky darker.

Boarding up the windows of classrooms to be used as dormitories in preparation for Hurricane Tomas - Photo: H.Atkins
Taking no chances, the government closed all schools until at least next Monday, so that children are not at risk. This has given SOS Children's Villages the chance to put five of their classrooms to another use. At the moment children and SOS aunties, 83 of them in all, are living in temporary shelters next to the children’s village. As these shelters are new, no one really knows whether they will withstand the force of a hurricane. So the school classrooms are being converted into temporary bedrooms where the shelter occupants will be safe. All the desks and chairs have been moved out and mattresses now occupy the floor. Windows have also been temporarily boarded up to counter the risk of flying glass.

Making space in the classrooms to create safe spaces for children and staff - Photo: H. Atkins
Elsewhere in the children’s village anything loose is being tied down or put away. The co-workers held an emergency meeting this morning at which they discussed all eventualities and each person has a role to play. The atmosphere is strange – busy, expectant, and calm all at once. Only the children continue to enjoy their unexpected holiday with the usual laughter, screams, tears and play that you find in every SOS Children’s Village. The adults watch and wait.

Preparing to cover and tie all loose items at the CV Santo in preparation for Hurricane Tomas - Photo: H.Atkins