Hurricane Matthew's death toll increases in Haiti

Civil Protection Agency coordinator: 470 die in 1 district alone

JEREMIE, Haiti – Jameson Bellande, who grew up in Miami-Dade said his family remembers when Hurricane Flora, a category 4 storm, hit Haiti in 1963. The storm killed as many as 8,000.

Bellande feared the worst was about to come. Hurricane Matthew's death toll continued to rise. He was outside of Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church in Miami's Little Haiti on a sunny Saturday when he said, "Mwen tris," in Creole. He was sad.

Matthew spared him and his family in Miami Gardens, but some of his relatives in Haiti had not been able to communicate with them in Miami. 

"We don't know anything," said the father of two, who works in construction. 

The updates on the storm's victims weren't coming fast enough for Bellande and other Haitians in South Florida. Haitian Sen. Herve Fourcand said the death counts were difficult to tabulate due to the lack of infrastructure in the mountainous areas.

"Cholera is the biggest problem right now," Fourcand said. "We need clean water."

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez,  who is campaigning for reelection in November, traveled to Haiti with Haitian-born Commissioner Jean Monestime, who shared photos on Twitter of their quick meeting with Peter Mulrean, U.S. ambassador to Haiti. 

Gimenez and Monsetime remained in Port-au-Prince. They didn't visit the homes that turned into piles of rubble throughout remote villages in southwest Haiti. Gimenez said on Twitter he was there to discuss how Miami-Dade County can assist with the recovery. 

The impoverished nation was still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake when the hurricane prompted the humanitarian crisis on Tuesday. 

Ernst Ais, mayor of the town of Cavaillon, said that among the dead were a woman and her 6-year-old daughter.

They died after they frantically abandoned their flimsy home and headed to a nearby church to seek shelter.

"On the way to the church, the wind took them," Ais said.

Reuters reported the unofficial number of dead soared to 877.Fridnel Kedler, coordinator for the Civil Protection Agency in Grand'Anse, told The Associated Press at least 470 died in one district of Haiti's hard-hit southwest region.

Haiti's Civil Protection Service, Joseph Edgard Celesti, told CNN there were at least 336 dead. The Director of the Office of Civil Protection Maria-Alta Jean Baptiste told The Miami Herald there were an estimated 300 victims, but the count "would surely rise."


Kedler said most of the deaths and damage were going to be in Haiti's Grand'Anse department, on the northern tip of the southwest peninsula.

In Jeremie, the main city of Grand-Anse, Jislene Jean-Baptiste surveyed what remained of the one-room house that the grandmother shares with her three daughters and their children. There wasn't much left.

Storm surge flowed across the road and drenched everything she owns in waist-deep salt water, washing away the stores of rice and sugar she regularly sold at the market to support her family. Then the wind tore off her roof.

"That storm was the most terrifying thing that ever happened here," the grandmother said.

Katrina Legner, a 23-year-old mother of two, also saw the storm destroy her small, concrete-block home before she fled to a cousin's house of a cousin that was also wrecked.

"We have very little food and I'm getting worried," she said.


Amid the suffering, aid began pouring into the coastal town of Jeremie, where there was food scarcity and a high risk of cholera deaths due to the flooding.

"My home is totally wrecked and I heard they were bringing food," said Richard David, 22, who was at the Jérémie Airport looking for aid. "I haven't had anything but water today and I'm hungry."

Saint-Victor Jeune, an official with the Civil Protection agency working in Beaumont, in the mountains on Jeremie's outskirts, said his team found 82 dead. Their discovery had not been included in the Haitian government's official count in Port-au-Prince due to spotty communications.

"We don't have any contact with Port-au-Prince yet and there are places we still haven't reached," Jeune said.

Outside Jeremie, home after home was in ruins. Drew Garrison, a Haiti-based missionary who flew in Friday, said several fishing villages were submerged and he could see bodies floating in the water.

"Anything that wasn't concrete was flattened," said Garrison, whose organization, Mission of Hope Haiti, based in Austin, Texas, was bringing in a barge loaded with emergency supplies on Saturday. "There were several little fishing villages that just looked desolate, no life."


The Pan American Health Organization  warned of a surge in cholera cases because of the widespread flooding caused by Matthew.

Haiti's cholera outbreak has killed roughly 10,000 people and sickened more than 800,000 since 2010, when it was introduced into the country's biggest river from a U.N. base where Nepalese peacekeepers were deployed.

Sophia Cheresal, deputy medical coordinator of Doctors Without Borders in Haiti, said there were at least 18 cases of cholera at the Jeremie hospital. "It's getting worse and probably some people are going to die."

U.N. emergency relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien called the hurricane's damage a major blow to Haiti's reconstruction effort and the fight against cholera.

"We expect that homes, schools and cholera treatment facilities have been destroyed and that water systems, roads and bridges have been severely damaged," he said in a statement that also announced that the U.N.'s Central Emergency Response Fund was releasing $5 million to help Haiti. Earlier this week, the fund released a loan of $8 million to UNICEF to scale up response to Haiti's cholera epidemic.

Solette Phelicin, a mother of five who lost her home and her small fruit and vegetable plot, watched from her yard as U.N. peacekeepers patrolled the airstrip. She said they were hungry and desperately in need of food.

"Jeremie might get rebuilt after I'm dead, maybe, but I doubt it," she said.

Damage on Isla de la Tortue

ABC News and CNN contributed to this story. 

About the Authors: