At the central plaza in Port-au-Prince, now home to thousands of displaced Haitians, water pelted rows of tents, seeping inside from every direction Monday night. At the Champs de Mars people tried to close shut entrances, some with thin cotton sheets or blankets. Mothers rushed to move children sleeping on the ground.
Suddenly, the constant noise of the street came to a halt, replaced by the thud of monstrous drops falling hard from the sky. The only welcomed sight: gleeful children cooling off after another scorching day.
The water quickly started collecting along the roadside. Aid workers say they fear that constant rain will overflow garbage- and rubble-filled canals, flooding the encampments that have sprouted on their banks.
The situation in some camps could be life threatening.
In Haiti, everyone knows the rainy season’s coming but there is little they can do to prepare. It comes every year in Haiti. The skies open up starting in May and the rains continue for several months. There is the added risk of hurricanes smacking into the nation that now lies devastated by the massive earthquake in January.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that about 2 million Haitians were displaced from their homes and are now living in more than 1,300 makeshift camps, some under bed sheets and flimsy tarps.
“A tent is a good place to be in another earthquake but not in a hurricane,” said Imogen Wall, spokeswoman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti.
Or in heavy rain, like the downpour Monday night in Port-au-Prince.
Almost 50,000 people are camped on the undulating nine-hole Petionville Golf Club. Vital Junior pointed to the dirt under his feet. When it rains, the place turns into a mud bath, slick and treacherous on the slopes.
At another much smaller camp in seaside Carrefour, water gushed down the hill and through the tents.
There are also worries that unsanitary conditions will unleash vicious disease outbreaks – malaria, cholera, dengue fever.
The fear is compounded by memories of Hurricane Jeanne in 2004 that weaved a path of destruction in the Gonaives area. Nearly 300,000 Haitians were affected – more than 3,000 died.
Four years later, Haiti’s third largest city was pummeled again by a series of deadly storms.
With painful images lingering in their minds, 2 million people are sleeping in tents in this year’s rainy season.
They are homeless in the poorest nation in the Americas. Homeless in a nation that’s highly disaster prone and vulnerable to flash floods because of environmental degradation.
Haitians know what to expect of the rainy season, unlike the earthquake. Except this year, many have no roofs over their heads.