Amid ruined lives, Mozambique’s cyclone survivors face cholera

Locals look on as a chopper takes off after they received food aid from a South African National Defence Force (SANDF) helicopter in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Nhamatanda village, near Beira, Mozambique, March 26, 2019. Picture taken March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

By Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Dozens of fragile patients poured into a clinic in the wrecked Mozambican port city of Beira on Wednesday, as the government said it had confirmed the first five cases of cholera in the wake of deadly Cyclone Idai.

A general view of houses seen from the air near Nhamatanda village, Beira, Mozambique, following Cyclone Idai, March 26, 2019. Picture taken March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

A general view of houses seen from the air near Nhamatanda village, Beira, Mozambique, following Cyclone Idai, March 26, 2019. Picture taken March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Thousands of people were trapped for more than a week in submerged villages without access to clean water after the cyclone smashed into Mozambique on March 14, causing catastrophic flooding. Relief efforts have increasingly focused on containing outbreaks of waterborne and infectious diseases.

In Munhava in central Beira, doctors and nurses at a newly set up treatment center said they are treating around 140 patients a day for diarrhea. Many of the patients arrive too weak to walk.

A Reuters reporter saw two men carrying an unconscious woman from a rickshaw into the clinic, trying to cover her naked body with a sheet.

Inside, those too ill to sit lay on concrete benches attached to intravenous drips. Mothers were perched on plastic chairs in the courtyard, trying to get their children to drink rehydration salts from green cups.

“He won’t take it,” said Marisa Salgado, 22, holding her boy, aged 1-1/2, who stared with glazed eyes.

It was the second time she had been to the clinic this week, Salgado said. Her child’s diarrhea returned as soon as she got home, despite the chlorine solution nurses gave her to purify their water.

“I’m scared. I don’t know what to do,” she said.

Cholera is endemic to Mozambique, which has had regular outbreaks over the past five years. About 2,000 people were infected in the last outbreak, which ended in February 2018, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

But the scale of the damage to Beira’s water and sanitation infrastructure coupled with its dense population have raised fears that an epidemic now would be difficult to put down.

A relative writes the name of a one-year-old child who died at a health centre dealing with water borne diseases onto a a cross in Beira, Mozambique, March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

A relative writes the name of a one-year-old child who died at a health centre dealing with water borne diseases onto a a cross in Beira, Mozambique, March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Ussene Isse, national director of medical assistance at the Health Ministry, said he expected cholera to spread beyond the five cases confirmed as of Wednesday morning.

“When you have one case, you have to expect more cases in the community,” he told reporters. Health workers are battling 2,700 cases of acute diarrhea, which could be a symptom of cholera, Isse added.

Health workers apply the same treatment for acute diarrhea or cholera, with severe cases requiring rapid rehydration through intravenous fluids.

Such diseases are another threat in the aftermath of Idai, which tore through Mozambique and into neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing more than 700 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of others.

Cholera is spread by faeces in sewage-contaminated water or food, and outbreaks can develop quickly in a humanitarian crisis where sanitation systems are disrupted. It can kill within hours if left untreated.

GRAPHIC: Cyclone Idai’s destructive path – https://tmsnrt.rs/2HxKqdk

CHILDREN DYING

Lin Lovue, 27, said he had rushed his son to the clinic late on Tuesday after a day of diarrhea. Within an hour of getting there, the child died.

“The biggest challenge is organization,” said a coordinator at the clinic who did not want to be named. “The health system was completely broken after the storm and we have to re-establish capacity fast.”

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which runs the emergency center at Munhava, has set up two others in Beira and is providing consultations via mobile clinics in several neighborhoods.

Outside the clinic, two medics dressed in blue overalls lifted the body of a 1-year-old child wrapped in a white bag on to the back of an open-top truck. The father laid his child down on a bamboo mat as someone wrote the baby’s name on a wooden cross.

The WHO is sending 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine to affected areas from a global stockpile. The shipment is expected to arrive in Mozambique later this week.

For now families, like that of Nelson Vasco, are being given a chlorine solution to purify their water. Three of Vasco’s children were discharged on Wednesday after recovering from severe diarrhea.

Vasco and his wife and mother carried the frail children on their backs as they walked through the mud to reach their two-room house in Goto, a poor community in central Beira.

Their home lost its roof in the storm and although Vasco managed to salvage some of the metal sheeting, the rain still comes in. But the biggest danger right now is the water from the mains supply.

Like most in this community of mud-brick homes, the family do not have running water, instead buying it from a neighbor who does. But they now worry it has been contaminated.

The death toll in Mozambique from Cyclone Idai has risen to 468, Mozambican disaster management official Augusta Maita said. That takes the total number of deaths in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi to 707 people, with many more missing.

(Additional reporting by Manuel Mucari in Maputo and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Alexander Winning and Joe Bavier; Editing by Louise Heavens, Janet Lawrence and Frances Kerry)

Schumer calls on Trump to appoint official to oversee Puerto Rico relief

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) departs after a full-Senate briefing by Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

By Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Charles Schumer, the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, called on President Donald Trump on Sunday to name a single official to oversee and coordinate relief efforts in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Schumer, along with Representatives Nydia Velàzquez and Jose Serrano, said a “CEO of response and recovery” is needed to manage the complex and ongoing federal response in the territory, where millions of Americans remain without power and supplies.

In a statement, Schumer said the current federal response to Hurricane Maria’s impact on the island had been “disorganized, slow-footed and mismanaged.”

“This person will have the ability to bring all the federal agencies together, cut red tape on the public and private side, help turn the lights back on, get clean water flowing and help bring about recovery for millions of Americans who have gone too long in some of the worst conditions,” he said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Democrats contended that naming a lone individual to manage the government’s relief efforts was critical, particularly given that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is already stretched thin from dealing with other crises, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and the wildfires in California.

The severity of the Puerto Rico crisis, where a million people do not have clean water and millions are without power nearly a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall, demand a single person to focus exclusively on relief and recovery, the Democrats said.

Forty-nine people have died in Puerto Rico officially, with dozens more missing. The hurricane did extensive damage to the island’s power grid, destroying homes, roads and other vital infrastructure. Now, the bankrupt territory is struggling to provide basic services like running water, and pay its bills.

“It’s tragically clear this Administration was caught flat footed when Maria hit Puerto Rico,” said Velàzquez. “Appointing a CEO of Response and Recovery will, at last, put one person with authority in charge to manage the response and ensure we are finally getting the people of Puerto Rico the aid they need.”

On Thursday, Trump said the federal response has been a “10” on a scale of one to 10 at a meeting with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello.

The governor has asked the White House and Congress for at least $4.6 billion in block grants and other types of funding.

Senator Marco Rubio called on Congress to modify an $18.7 billion aid package for areas damaged by a recent swath of hurricanes to ensure that Puerto Rico can quickly access the funds.

 

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Diane Craft)

 

San Juan mayor calls hurricane disaster ‘a people-are-dying’ story

Trump administration asks Congress for $29 billion in hurricane relief

By Robin Respaut and Dave Graham

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – The mayor of Puerto Rico’s hurricane-battered capital spoke on Friday of thirsty children drinking from creeks. A woman with diabetes said a lack of refrigeration had spoiled her insulin. An insurance adjuster said roads have virtually vanished on parts of the island.

In enumerable ways large and small, many of the 3.4 million inhabitants of Puerto Rico struggled through a 10th day with little or no access to basic necessities – from electricity and clean, running water to communications, food and medicine.

Carmen Yulin Cruz, mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, gave voice to rising anger on the U.S. island territory as she delivered a sharp retort on Friday to comments from a top Trump administration official who said the federal relief effort was a “a good news story.”

“Damn it, this is not a good news story,” Cruz told CNN. “This is a people-are-dying story. This is a life-or-death story.”

Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, head of the parent department for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said on Thursday she was satisfied with the disaster response so far.

“I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane,” Duke said.

Paying a visit to Puerto Rico on Friday for an aerial tour of the island with Governor Ricardo Rossello, Duke moderated her message, telling reporters she was proud of the recovery work but adding that she and President Donald Trump would not be satisfied until the territory was fully functional.

Maria, the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, has killed at least 16 people on the island, according to the official death toll. More than 30 deaths have been attributed to the storm across the Caribbean.

Rossello has called the widespread heavy damage to Puerto Rico’s homes, roads and infrastructure unprecedented, though he has praised the U.S. government’s relief efforts.

Cruz, appearing in a later interview, bristled at suggestions that the relief effort had been well-coordinated.

“There is a disconnect between what the FEMA people are saying is happening and what the mayors and the people in the towns know that is happening,” Cruz, who has been living in a shelter since her own home was flooded, said on CNN.

Wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Help us. We are dying,” Cruz said she was hopeful the situation would improve, but added, “People can’t fathom what it is to have children drinking from creeks, to have people in nursing homes without oxygen.”

‘WE ARE ALONE’

The mayor of San Germán, a town of about 35,000 in the southwestern corner of the island, echoed Cruz’s harsh words.

“The governor is giving a message that everything is resolved, and it is not true,” Mayor Isidro Negron Irizarry said in Spanish on Twitter. “There is no functional operations structure. We are alone.”

Trump, who was scheduled to visit next week, addressed the situation before a speech in Washington about his new tax plan.

“The electrical grid and other infrastructure were already in very, very poor shape,” he said. “And now virtually everything has been wiped out, and we will have to really start all over again. We’re literally starting from scratch.”

Colonel James DeLapp, the Army Corps of Engineers commander for Puerto Rico, told CNN that rebuilding the island’s crippled power grid was a massive undertaking.

“The closest thing we’ve had is when the Army Corps led the effort to restore Iraq’s electricity in the early stages of the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004,” he said.

Further complicating recovery is a financial crisis marked by Puerto Rico’s record bankruptcy filing in May and the weight of $72 billion in outstanding debt.

“Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort, which will end up being one of the biggest ever, will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” Trump said.

‘ONE OF THE LUCKY ONES’

In Old San Juan, the capital’s historic colonial section, customers lined up on the sidewalk outside Casa Cortes ChocoBar cafe for sandwiches and coffee, being handed out from a small window between plywood planks clinging to the exterior wall.

“We’re one of the few restaurants that have a generator,” said Daniela Santini, 19, who works there. “Most businesses don’t have electricity, only some have water. We’re one of the lucky ones.”

Nancy Rivera, 59, a San Juan resident who suffers from diabetes, was forced to go without her medication by a lack of electricity. “I stopped using the insulin in my refrigerator. It’s too warm,” she said.

Ground transportation, hampered by fuel shortages and streets blocked with fallen vegetation and utility wires, remained a major challenge.

“You can’t see the roads,” said Alvaro Trueba, a regional catastrophe coordinator for property insurer Chubb Ltd, who told Reuters that adjusters face difficulties driving about the island.

More troops, medical supplies and vehicles were on the way to the island, but it will be some time before the U.S. territory is back on its feet, the senior U.S. general appointed to lead military relief operations said on Friday.

“We’re certainly bringing in more,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan told CNN on Friday, a day after he was appointed by the Pentagon.

The hardships on Puerto Rico have largely overshadowed similar struggles faced by the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands, slammed by two major hurricanes – Irma and Maria – in the span of a month.

Most of St. Croix, the largest of the three major islands in that territory, remained without electricity and cellular communications nine days after Maria struck. Shelters were still packed and long lines stretched around emergency supply centers.

At one such facility, anguished residents pleaded for more than the single sheets of plastic tarp that National Guard troops were handing out.

Meanwhile, the insurance industry was tallying the mounting costs of Maria, with one modeling firm estimating that claims could total as much as $85 billion.

Rossello told CNN on Friday the federal government has responded to his requests and that he was in regular contact with FEMA’s director, though more needed to be done.

“We do have severe logistical limitations. It has been enhancing, but it’s still nowhere near where it needs to be,” Rossello said.

Asked how long it would take for Puerto Rico to recover, Buchanan, the general leading the military effort, gave a slight sigh and said: “This is a very, very long duration.”

(Reporting by Robin Respaut and Dave Graham in SAN JUAN, Doina Chiacu, Roberta Rampton, Justin Mitchell and Makini Brice in WASHINGTON, and Lisa Maria Garza in DALLAS and Suzanne Barlyn in NEW YORK; Writing by Bill Rigby and Steve Gorman; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Mary Milliken)

Judge orders bottled water delivered in Flint, Mich., in water crisis

Flint Water Tower

(This version of the Nov. 10 story, corrects the name to Natural Resources Defense Council in paragraph 3)

By David Bailey

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Thursday ordered state and city officials to deliver bottled water directly to qualified residents in Flint, Michigan, where a water contamination crisis has made unfiltered tap water unsafe to drink since April 2014.

Officials must deliver four cases of bottled water a week immediately unless they can prove a water filter is installed and properly maintained at a home or if residents opt out of a filter or deliveries, U.S. District Judge David Lawson said.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by residents and advocacy groups Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

“Here the plaintiffs seek a stop-gap measure that provides ready access to safe drinking water,” Lawson said. “It is in the best interest of everyone to move people out of harms way before addressing the source of the harm.”

Flint, a predominantly black city of 100,000, was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its water source in April 2014 to the Flint River from Lake Huron in a money-saving move. The more corrosive river water caused lead to leach from city pipes and into the drinking water.

The city switched back in October 2015 after tests found high levels of lead in blood samples taken from children, but the water has not returned fully to normal. Flint has been replacing lead pipes running to homes, and state officials have said the water is safe to drink if properly filtered.

The crisis drew international attention and numerous lawsuits and led to calls by some critics for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to resign over the state’s response.

The groups’ lawsuit, filed in January, seeks replacement of lead service pipes. They later asked Lawson to order home water deliveries or faucet filter installations because transportation issues made it hard for some residents to get to water distribution centers.

The city and state argued that bottled water was widely available at government-run distribution points and ordering door-to-door deliveries could be financially crippling.

Lawson called the city and state efforts commendable, but said the plaintiffs offered credible anecdotal evidence the distribution network was in flux and not completely effective.

“The court correctly recognized that the government created this crisis, and it’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that all people in Flint have access to safe drinking water,” NRDC attorney Dimple Chaudhary said.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Leslie Adler)