Haiti forced to bury its dead in mass graves after Hurricane Matthew death toll rises

1,000 people on the island are now believed to have been killed by the storm

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The Independent US

Haiti has been forced to bury victims of Hurricane Matthew in mass graves after the death toll in the country rose to more than 1,000.

Cholera has spread rapidly in the country's devastated south-west region after the storm – the fiercest to hit the Caribbean in almost ten years – tore through the region last week. 

Winds of up to 145 miles per hour slammed into the island and torrential rains have left 1.4 million people in need of humanitarian help.

Estimates from local officials suggest 1,000 people were killed by the storm in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Americas. 

Authorities are struggling to cope with the number of victims and those who survived but are without access to food and water. 

Kedner Frenel, a senior government official in the Grand’Anse region of western Haiti, said workers were having to bury the dead in mass graves because the bodies were starting to decompose.

522 people were killed in Grand’Anse alone, he added.

The UN has established a $5 million emergency fund to help relief efforts in Haiti. The British government has also pledged £5 million in aid to the country. 

“We expect that homes, schools and cholera treatment facilities have been destroyed and that water systems, roads and bridges have been severely damaged. This is a major blow to Haiti’s reconstruction effort and the fight against cholera”, said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien. 

Enzo di Taranto, Head of Office for the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Haiti told UN Radio: “There is a lot of suffering, a lot of hardship; some of the communities have been almost totally destroyed by the strength of the wind. Therefore the shelters, public infrastructure including the schools [and] hospitals have been affected.” 

Authorities are concerned about the spread of cholera after the storm destroyed water supplies and sewage systems. The illness, which is spread by dirty water, is easily curable but can prove fatal within hours if left untreated.

“Overflowing rivers, stagnant waters, and animal and human corpses are perfect breeding grounds for waterborne diseases,” said Marc Vincent, UNICEF Representative in Haiti. “Every day that goes by increases the threat of cholera. We are in a race against time to get to these children before diseases do.”

Haiti, which has a population of 10 million, has suffered several natural disasters in recent years. In addition to several hurriances, a huge earthquake in 2010 devastated the island and killed up to 316,000 people.