Tomas was on its way. News reports showed it lashing islands in the Carribean, relentless in its mission, unforgiving on the people. And it was on its way to Haiti. A country that was still getting over the earthquake in January and dealing with an outbreak of cholera.
What we all thought was an already terrible situation would become unimaginably worse if Tomas really hit as hard as they all said it would. The atmosphere in the office as Tomas whirled around the Caribbean, picking up strength, was a heavy one. You could feel the tension, even though we all nervously laughed and made jokes to calm our nerves. After having lived in countries such as Chad where there are droughts and we prayed for rain, this time, we prayed for the sun.
The day before Tomas was due to hit Port au Prince flew by. Staff were allowed to go home early to prepare for hibernation. I had a flight booked for the weekend the hurricane was due to hit. I rushed to the office of the airline to change it, but the office was full of people doing the same.
Security measures were put in place, fridges were stocked and buckets filled in case we lost electricity. Organizations were busy preparing those displaced and living in tents, moving them to higher ground, out of the flood plains, pre-positioning stocks to ensure responses were quick, post Tomas.
The night passed with some rain, nothing unusual, no hurricane strength winds in the city. We woke up to reports that the worst was yet to come and to stay indoors. The south of Haiti was being hit hard as I had breakfast, one eye on my toast, the other out the window. The light drizzle and grey skies kept us wondering in the house if this was the calm before storm like everyone said. When the rain picked up, so did our heartbeats. Then, it stopped. Did the prayers work? Did Tomas reconsider?
In the end, Port au Prince wasn’t hit as badly as had been anticipated. However, for people living in tents, on the sides of the steep slopes of the city and those on the coast, the rain that did fall was enough to do damage. Perhaps worse than a hurricane hitting an overpopulated city was cholera hitting the poorest areas of the city. Sadly, our fears became a stark reality days later.
I left Haiti for the UK the following day and my ride to the airport was business as usual. The ladies on the side of the road were still selling their oranges, arranged in precarious pyramids next to other ladies selling used Reebok high tops, throw backs to the 80s. Now, for the next couple of weeks I’m out of the country and back to being an observer of Haiti, of the cholera, of the impending elections and seeing this beautiful country in the occasional photograph in the newspapers.