Preparations made as tropical storm bears down on Haiti

With Tropical Storm Emily expected to slice through Haiti tonight and tomorrow, aid workers are in emergency mode helping hundreds of thousands of homeless Haitians get to safety.

An estimated 630,000 people continue to live in flimsy makeshift shelters in vacant lots, on hillsides and in parks around the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. They are the most vulnerable in a country prone to serious flooding during any stormy weather.

“We’re doing everything we can to inform them where the safe locations are,” Luke King, country representative in Haiti for Catholic Relief Services, told Catholic News Service this morning. “The government has a list of shelters, but it’s a little out of date. There are locations people can go. The fact is there’s not going to be enough room for everyone. They’re going to have to rely on family and friends.

“After the storm passes, we’ll go out and see where we can help.”

CRS crews also are visiting areas where wooden temporary shelters built under contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development were placed to make sure the structures are safe and concrete foundations are secure, King said.

U.S. National Hurricane Center forecasters predict heavy rains — up to 10 inches in some places — will lead to massive runoff and flooding, especially on mountains and hillside and in river valleys. Winds are not expected to be a major factor with this storm.

In Port-au-Prince, the local government is making buses available in which people can ride out the storm.

King and his colleagues also fear that the rain will cause a surge in cholera as contaminated water spreads through the tent camps that still exist in the quake zone as well as elsewhere throughout the island nation.

A series of heavy rains in June led to spike in reported cholera cases.

Through July 25, cholera had claimed 5,821 lives, according to the latest statistics compiled by the Haitian Ministry of Health and Population.
Overall, nearly 410,000 cholera cases have been reported since the cholera outbreak began in October.

A special banner hung at Castel Gandolfo

Pope Benedict stands under the antique banner, blessing pilgrims. (CNS/Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — To celebrate Pope Benedict XVI’s first general audience of the summer at Castel Gandolfo, the staff at the papal villa brought out a banner usually reserved for the town’s biggest feast days.

The banner features the traditional papal tiara, which Pope Benedict XVI chose not to include on his personal coat of arms. Instead, the pope’s seal features a bishop’s miter.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said the banner is an antique treasure. It was donated to the papal villa by Blessed Pius IX (who died in 1878). Usually it is hung for the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, and in Castel Gandolfo on the feast of the Assumption Aug. 15 and on the Jan. 20 feast of St. Sebastian — the town’s patron.