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Latin America

Relief workers find 240 starving Haitians living in cave

After losing their homes, livestock and crops after Hurricane Matthew, families took refuge in a cave in Fonds Rouge Dahere near the city of Jérémie in southwest Haiti. They were found, signing hymns, on Wednesday by a team from Food For The Poor.
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27 Mar 2017 – 05:41 PM EDT
Some 240 Haitians, mostly women and children, took refuge in caves near Fonds Rouge Dahere in south western Haiti after their homes and crops were destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in October. Crédito: Courtesy of Food for the Poor

The sound of hymns led relief workers to a cave where they found 240 people, mostly women and children, in southwest Haiti last week, the latest sign of a humanitarian catastrophe left in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

"They lost their homes, their livestock drowned and the crops were destroyed. They had nowhere to live," said Angel Aloma, Executive Director of the Florida-based charity Food for the Poor.

"They were singing hyms. It's amazing in Haiti, the people never lose faith."

Food for the Poor sent a team to the area after learning 11 people had died from eating poisonous plants, he said. Two more people hanged themselves.

“Families are turning in desperation to fruits and foliage known to be poisonous in an attempt to quell their hunger and save their lives,” the charity said in a press release.

"That was what originally alerted us. We heard rumors that people were dying. They were eating things that they knew were harmful for them. So we sent a team to look for the worst pockets of hunger," he said.

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For the time being the families, including 84 women and 62 children, remain in the caves on the side of a mountain outside the city of Jérémie as most local shelters were also damaged by Matthew, which hit the Grand'Anse region last October.

Food for the Poor delivered food and water as well as blankets and hygiene kits, said Aloma. "At least now they can live a little more humanely," he added.

The group is sending an additional 100 containers of food to the region per month and is the largest supplier of humanitarian aid to Haiti.

Foor for the Poor said it has started a campaign to build homes for the families as well, at a cost of about $3,500 for each unit. "We are also sending seeds and agricultural tools," said Aloma.

After Hurricane Mathew struck the region as a catastrophic Category Five storm with 145-miles-per-hour winds, Haiti's government calculated losses to crops, livestock and infrastructure at $2.9 billion.

The United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned in a report this month that "post Hurricane Matthew’s humanitarian needs are still high with an estimated 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance."

In the immediate aftermath of Matthew The New York Times reported more than 500 people were found taking refuge in caves near Lacadonie in southwest Haiti. Those families have since found new homes and those caves are now empty, according to Food for the Poor.

In Fond Rouge Dahere farmers reportedly replanted crops after the storm but the region has since suffered a five-month drought.

"They have been hit twice. Mother nature has been very ungentle with them," Aloma said.

Asked about the group's long-term plans for the region, Aloma said "Haiti needs help all the time," noting that Food for the Poor has been working there for 30 years.

"In Haiti crisis is the normal way of life, so this is devastation," he added.