Haiti Weathers Isaac, Says First Lady

Tropical Storm Isaac slammed Haiti with heavy rain and strong winds. Although the damage is less than feared, the country is still trying to rebuild after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Host Michel Martin speaks with Haiti's First Lady Sophia Martelly to learn more about how they were affected by the storm.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program we will check out more literature from the so-called BRICS nations - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. We're turning to China for the latest chapter in our series. That's in just a few minutes.

But now we're keeping an eye on weather in the Gulf Coast. Tropical Storm Isaac has already slammed Haiti with strong rain and winds. There are reports of flooding and mudslides in the south and in the capital of Port-au-Prince. The Haitian government is reporting that at least 19 people have been killed.

To tell us more about how Haiti is coping, we are joined now by the first lady of Haiti, Sophia Martelly. Madam First Lady, thank you so much for speaking with us once again.

SOPHIA MARTELLY: Thank you, Michel, for having me.

MARTIN: Can you give us a sense of the current situation on the ground? What are you most concerned about at the moment?

MARTELLY: Right now I think the situation is pretty much under control, although with the much rain that Haiti received, we are at high risk for a mudslide, landslide, land collapsing and flooding. But I think the government did a good job at coordinating the help and the number of casualties, unfortunately, as you already gave the number, was not - didn't happen because - directly with the hurricane, but post-hurricane. People died in mudslides. We had electrical poles that fell with the wind and people got - we had one casualty electrocuted.

MARTIN: Now, I think many people will remember that there are still many people - somewhere in the hundreds of thousands - living in tents or in other kind of more temporary shelters since the earthquake, that devastating 2010 earthquake that you told us about when you were last here...

MARTELLY: Yes.

MARTIN: ...with us. Was the government able to make any precautions to give people any more safety in anticipation of this?

MARTELLY: Yes. Yes, we were. And I have to tell you that of the people living in the tents, we had, unfortunately, one casualty. But we were prepared and we were able to evacuate the people from the tents into shelters. But as you know, it happens, even in the U.S., people are sometimes reluctant to leave where they feel comfortable to go to shelters. But we were able to evacuate. The government was able to evacuate people from the tents to bring them to secure shelters.

MARTIN: How are you able to move about now? What is the capital like, for example? Are you able to move about in heavy vehicles or can - are there areas that are dry?

MARTELLY: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: Tell us a little bit more about the capital.

MARTELLY: Yes. I would say 12 hours after Isaac stopped by to visit, the streets were clean. The service had already removed all the fallen trees from the streets. In the capital, things are pretty much back to normal. In the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, I know in the southeast, and around south of the capital, there is still news about flooding, but we do have people on the ground to do assessment.

Right now I have my oldest son, who's giving out kits right now in the southeast of the country, but...

MARTIN: Are any parts of...

MARTELLY: ...everything is back to normal in Port-au-Prince right now.

MARTIN: Is any part of the country impassible or is any part of the country unavailable to rescue personnel or other forms of aid?

MARTELLY: I think that in the outskirts, where we have road issues already, even prior to Isaac, with the passage of Isaac, the road is definitely somewhat blocked in certain areas. But I would say the majority of roads are open to vehicles right now.

MARTIN: And finally, First Lady, before we let you go, is there anything that the international community can do to be particularly helpful to Haiti right now?

MARTELLY: Very honestly, they've always been there for us. This time we are proud to say the government is very proud that they were able to manage, I would say, this crisis this time with the Haitians. We just received technical assistance from the Dominican Republic, which we thank them for. And, again, as I say, the international community can always provide us with technical assistance because I think it's time that Haiti becomes responsible for its problems, and I'm not going to say self-sustainable, but we are working at being able to assist our people.

MARTIN: Sophia Martelly is the first lady of Haiti and she was kind enough to join us by phone from Port-au-Prince. First Lady Martelly, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MARTELLY: Thank you so much, Michel.

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