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Hurricane Matthew Leaves Death And Destruction In Southern Haiti


Hurricane Matthew tore through the coast of Florida and Georgia today. The storm is responsible for at least four deaths, and millions of people in the region have lost power. To the south in Haiti, government reports say at least 300 people have died from the storm. The situation in Haiti remains precarious for hundreds of thousands of people who live in the hardest hit areas. In some towns, 80 to 90 percent of the homes were damaged or destroyed. And the U.N. says the need for international relief is urgent. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Port au Prince. Jason, thanks for being with us.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: No, it's good to be with you.

SIMON: What do people need most right now?

BEAUBIEN: People are getting really frustrated in the area that was hardest hit. We went by a shelter where you've got hundreds of people packed into a school. You know, they have not had any aid that's come in there. You know, food has been cut off. You've got some areas that have been just completely cut off from any access at all, including, you know, cellphone service, so people haven't been able to even communicate.

The needs are absolutely huge. I mean, there's just large swaths of the southwest of this country that were just, sort of, completely crushed by this hurricane. And, you know, it's even kind of hard to even tally what is going to be needed but certainly roofing material so that people can get back into their homes. And there's definitely going to be a need for food and water in these areas.

SIMON: What are the problems in getting aid to arrive?

BEAUBIEN: You know, and it's interesting to note - it's been, like, a week for a lot of these people because on Monday people started going into these shelters as it moved there. So, you know, for the people that are there, it's feeling really like it's been a long time.

There are still a lot of roads that are blocked going into some of these areas. These are remote areas. Some of them only had one road to begin with. Trees are down. Power lines have fallen across, so those are blocked. You know, they need to get the bulldozers in there in terms of clearing those roads so that access can actually get in there. So that is actually the biggest hold up in reaching what were really the hardest hit parts of Haiti.

SIMON: And there must be concern about the spread of Zika, malaria, cholera and other diseases.

BEAUBIEN: Absolutely. I mean, people are very concerned that all of this water that came with Hurricane Matthew has washed through latrines. There's already cholera in Haiti, and it's been spreading before. That is sort of the biggest concern because cholera is deadly, and it's waterborne. And so there's very much concern that that, as well as other diseases, could get spread in the wake of this.

SIMON: And, Jason, based on the sad experience Haiti has had in recent years contending with natural disaster, how long, potentially, does it take to rebuild the area?

BEAUBIEN: You know, this is going to be a long effort. You know, you just look at, like, a town of Les Cayes (ph) just everywhere there are power lines, there are massive trees that are down. It is going to take a long time. There are the immediate things that need to be done just to get people shelter so that they have somewhere to live. But then, all of this infrastructure is going to have to be rebuilt.

SIMON: And it's an agricultural economy, too, in these areas that have been devastated.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah, it is. I mean, you saw these banana plantations where every one of the banana trees was down. And I was talking to a farmer yesterday, walking through this place where all of these massive mango trees had fallen on the ground. And we were just sort of climbing over these broken limbs. And he was saying, you know, to grow another mango tree is going to take seven or eight years before it's going to bear fruit. So he's looking at his destruction there and saying, you know, it's going to be a long time before this part of Haiti gets back to normal.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien reporting to us today from Port au Prince, Haiti. Thanks so much for being with us, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.

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