Following the passage of Hurricane Matthew, the uniformed students have deserted their desks at the Philippe Guerrier High School, located in the center of Les Cayes, the largest city in southwest Haiti.
Dozens of families from surrounding neighborhoods have taken refuge in the local school, trying to make the most of the situation. Tired mothers have turned desks into beds, while their children play in the schoolyard. They use the balconies to dry their colorful clothing, which clash with the whitewashed classroom walls. One of the families transformed a stricken school bus into a their own personal suite.
Sitting in front of one of the first-floor classrooms, Marie-Ange Descote, 40, is wearing a fresh plaster around her left leg. “I slipped and injured myself as I was making my way to the shelter during the storm,” she says. “There was so much wind and mud. I managed to get to the school and I had an operation in hospital” one week later.
With her daughter Ansa by her side, she admits–not without regret–that she should have “gone to the shelter earlier. They issued alerts before, but there was never any real damage. I thought it would be the same this time, I thought it wasn’t worth worrying about, but we were frightened out of our wits.”
On the ground floor, Jonas Cazeau, 30, is quietly reading his bible, lying on one of the only beds in the building. Jonas owes this “privilege” to his disability. Following an incident, as he describes it, Jonas suffered an injury and lost the use of his legs. Since then, he has used a wheelchair to get around–at least as much as he is able–as the roads in his neighborhood of La Savane are in terrible shape.
“I didn’t have a choice, the civil protection officers fetched me and brought me here on Monday evening [October 3] because I was too vulnerable,” he explains. “The hurricane frightened me, but we were safe here with my mother and my companion. My home has been destroyed and I don’t know how long I’m going to stay here.”
In the neighboring classroom, Méralia Simon, 90, hair as white as her dress, was also evacuated by officers from civil protection. Unlike Jonas, she is completely alone, without family or neighbors to look after her.
On the night of the hurricane, she didn’t hear a thing. “I’m deaf and I didn’t even realize what was happening.” Like the other people taking refuge in the Philippe Guerrier High School, she has nowhere to go and little hope of finding a new house anytime soon. She begins to recite the names of every cyclone and hurricane that has hit Haiti in the last 50 years making sure to include Matthew to her long, long list.