The southeast U.S. is busy preparing for the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, which already has caused the deaths of 15 people and massive destruction as it swept across the Caribbean. According to CNN, the hurricane is expected to make landfall in Florida on Friday and sweep up the Atlantic coast, prompting mandatory evacuations for 2 million people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina - the largest mandatory evacuations since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. "This storm will kill you," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said in a warning to those living in evacuation areas. "Time is running out."
While the current focus (and rightly so) is on evacuating to safer locations, securing property and gathering supplies, the aftermath of the storm will bring a whole new host of concerns - and one of the most important is access to safe drinking water.
Caribbean nations affected by Hurricane Matthew already are grappling with this. Haiti, which was especially hard hit by the storm, was still in recovery from the devastating 2010 earthquake when the hurricane struck. The destruction wreaked by the earthquake led to a cholera epidemic that persists to this day, and, according to the New York Times, "spiked in 2016," with 26,000 cholera cases this year alone. Access to clean drinking water is "a problem in normal times" in Haiti, said Jessica Pearl, Haiti country director for the charity Mercy Corps, in the New York Times article. Pearl predicted that the hurricane “has the potential to be a big setback for years of efforts to bring cholera under control.”
Hurricane Matthew also could affect drinking water supplies here in the U.S. According to reports, Florida stores are running low on bottled water as residents stock up in case public water supplies are disrupted. Those who use private water wells also have cause for concern. This week, the National Ground Water Assn. (NGWA) provided tips for those whose water wells become flooded as a result of the storm, including using bottled water for drinking and washing, staying away from the pump due to risk of electric shock, and contacting a well professional to repair and disinfect the well.
This topic hits especially close to home for me, as much of my family lives in Vero Beach, Fla., right in the projected path of the storm. Let's keep all those affected by Hurricane Matthew in our thoughts and prayers this week.