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Haiti, Still Recovering from 2016 Hurricane, Braces for Irma

Less than a year after Hurricane Matthew wrecked Haiti, Hurricane Irma is now on its way to the impoverished country, raising fears of a new crisis.
Image: Men set sandbags in a street of Cap Haitien
Men set sandbags in a street of Cap Haitien, Haiti, Sept. 7, 2017.Andres Martinez Casares / Reuters

As it barrels through the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma is expected to deliver a brutal blow to parts of Haiti, the impoverished country that is still recovering from the devastation of an October 2016 hurricane.

Irma was projected to skirt the northern coast of Haiti, sparing it from the full force of the storm but still pummeling it with heavy rain and strong winds.

A woman walks past sandbags set in a street of Cap Haitien, Haiti, Sept. 7, 2017.Andres Martinez Casares / Reuters

The first edge of Irma began to lash Haiti's eastern border with the Dominican Republic on Thursday afternoon, causing flooding and tearing roofs from homes, local officials and aid workers reported. The storm is projected to move west overnight across the northern coast, an area that includes Haiti's second-largest city, Cap-Hatien, said National Weather Service meteorologist Walt Zaleski.

Yvonne Helle, country director in Haiti for the United Nations Development Program, said she was particularly worried about areas of the northwest, which were wrecked by Matthew but received relatively little help to recover.

Related: Hurricane Jose to Give Irma-Battered Islands Another Lashing

"This is an area that is difficult to reach and already very fragile because of Matthew," Helle said in a telephone interview from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

She added: "We're just very worried about the facilities there and the ability of people to cope, and how to reach them after the hurricane."

The Desir family wait next to their house as they prepare to go to a shelter to await the arrival of Hurricane Irma, in Cap-Haitien, on Sept. 7, 2017. Irma is expected to hit the northern edges of the Dominican Republic and Haiti later Thursday, continuing past eastern Cuba before veering north towards Florida.Hector Retamal / AFP - Getty Images

Haiti has a notoriously weak government infrastructure, and is still recovering from Matthew, which hit on Oct. 4, 2016, killing hundreds of people, wiping out crops and livestock and aggravating a cholera outbreak.

Irma could exacerbate those problems.

"People who lost most of their livestock, part of their harvest because of Matthew, that means levels of poverty increase, less income, less to eat," Halle said. "What we see is that people have very little to fall back on. The resilience against shock has been seriously reduced."

Men set sandbags in a street of Cap Haitien, Haiti, Sept. 7, 2017.Andres Martinez Casares / Reuters