October 7, 2016

Hurricane Matthew hits Haiti - CNES activates Pleiades satellites to help organize relief effort

At the end of September, Hurricane Matthew swept through Martinique and Guadeloupe. The category 4 hurricane then turned towards western Haiti on Monday 3 October, with devastating effect, before pursuing its path to the United States. To task satellites to help locate and map areas hit by the hurricane, the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, cofounded by CNES and ESA in 2002, was activated on several occasions to support emergency relief teams on the ground.

The hurricane that tore through Haiti, with winds of over 200 km/h, left a terrible trail of death and destruction in its wake, claiming 300 lives and causing untold damage to infrastructures. After Haiti, Matthew then swept across the East coast of Cuba before battering the north of the Bahamas, by which time it had turned into a category 5 hurricane. It hit land on the East coast of Florida last night and was showing no signs of relenting. The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters was activated for Haiti three times: by USGS1 (United States) during the night of 3-4 October, by French civil protection teams (DGSCGC/COGIC) on the morning of 4 October, and by the United Nations (UNITAR/UNOSAT) half an hour later. Europe has been quick to organize the relief effort, supported by the French civil protection teams. Europe’s Copernicus Emergency service was also activated by the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) and the Charter has been coordinating with Copernicus to pool efforts to map the situation in Haiti rapidly.

The Charter’s 20 satellites are in action over all of these regions: optical satellites are identifying damage to buildings, infrastructures and roads, while radar satellites are mapping flood areas after the torrential rains. The two Pleiades satellites have been tasked to acquire imagery of all areas requested by the Charter’s users. The first Pleiades images acquired on 5 and 6 October were unfortunately unusable due to cloud cover. The satellites were retasked to acquire new imagery on 7 October and more acquisitions were planned for the Bahamas and then Florida from 8 October.

Matthew is thought to be the most powerful hurricane recorded in this region for several decades. More than two and a half million people were forced to take shelter in Florida and Georgia before it hit land. The last activation of the week, for the East coast of the United States, was the Charter’s 510th activation since its inception in 2000 and the 29th this year.

1 USGS: United States Geological Survey      DGSGC: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Civile et de la Gestion des Crises      UNITAR: United Nations Institute for Training and Research        UNOSAT: United Nations Institute for Training and Research Operational Satellite

More information at:

Pascale Bresson    Tel. +33 (0)1 44 76 75 39    pascale.bresson@cnes.fr
Julien Watelet    Tel. +33 (0)1 44 76 78 37    julien.watelet@cnes.fr