RAMON ESPINOSA, Associated Press
THOMAZEAU, Haiti (AP) — The Haitian government and international aid groups evacuated more than 50 families to dry land Sunday after the Caribbean country’s largest lake overflowed from days of heavy rains.
Brackish water spilled from Lake Azuei before dawn, flooding sections of low-lying land around several villages near Thomazeau, a town northeast of the capital.
The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs dispatched a convoy of trucks and boats early Sunday to aid villagers whose homes were at risk of flooding, U.N. spokeswoman Elaine Nabaa said.
Nadia Lochard, an official with Haiti’s Civil Protection Department, said 56 families agreed to leave their homes, while others chose to stay because they feared their possessions would be stolen or they needed to tend to livestock. The evacuated families were moved to a church in Thomazeau.
Earlier Sunday, representatives of humanitarian groups said about 1,000 villagers would likely need to be evacuated. Nabaa said they received this number from Haiti’s Civil Protection Department.
Lochard declined to answer questions about the discrepancy.
But the number of people who need to be evacuated near Lake Azuei could easily climb in the coming days as rain continued along the Haitian-Dominican border.
Lake Azuei has had problems with flooding for years. Canals that are supposed to stabilize the large lake’s water level have long been clogged with trash and sediment, leading to flooding. Hillsides surrounding the lake are deforested, allowing water and sediment to run into the lake.
Haiti has seen weeks of downpours as the rainy season shifts into the hurricane season, which officially began last week.
President Michel Martelly visited the flooded areas on the border Sunday morning, his spokesman, Damian Merlo, wrote on Twitter. Merlo didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Associated Press writer Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.