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AMY BRACKEN, Canadian Press
Sep. 28, 2004

GONAIVES, Haiti (AP) - A thunderstorm drenched homeless people living on rooftops and sidewalks Saturday, adding to the woes of tropical storm Jeanne's survivors who have been looting aid trucks and mobbing food distribution centres in desperation over the slow pace of relief.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue estimated more than 1,500 dead, said Paul Magloire, an adviser. At least 900 more were missing. Some 300,000 are homeless, most in the northwestern city of Gonaives.

Gang members have been trying to steal food out of the hands of aid recipients, and UN peacekeepers - who already numbered about 600 in Gonaives - were sending in 140 Uruguayan troops as reinforcements to try to keep order, said Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the UN mission.

"Security is one of our major concerns," he said, adding that the Uruguayan soldiers were on their way from the southern city of Les Cayes in trucks to back up some 450 Argentine troops, who have been joined by Brazilian soldiers and police from France, Jordan and other countries.

Officials said gang members had forced their way into distribution centres and stolen food. Kongo-Doudou said troops had been able to chase them away without violence.

A UN humanitarian relief co-ordinator, Eric Mouillesarine, said people were mobbing relief workers and "there's nothing we can do."

UN troops from Argentina fired smoke grenades Friday when about 500 men, women and children tried to break into a schoolyard where CARE International was handing out grain and water to an orderly line of women. The sunburned, unwashed flood victims returned in surges once the air cleared.

The director of the World Food Program's Haiti operation, Guy Gavreau, said Friday that aid groups had been able to get food to only about 25,000 people this week - one-tenth of Gonaives' population.

During the night, lightning bolts lit the sky above blacked-out Gonaives, thunderclaps exploded and sheets of rain lashed the thousands living on the street and on concrete roofs of flooded homes.

The rain cleared up Saturday morning, but floodwaters rose again in some mud-coated areas of the city that had dried out in the week since Jeanne struck.

Some people said they hoped to evacuate the city, including Ysemarie Saint-Louis, 35, who spent the night on her roof with more than 30 relatives who crowded under a small tin shelter during the thunderstorm. When the rain let up, they went back to sleep on wet mattresses and blankets.

"If one person gets sick, we'll all be sick," she said, saying she and others hope to evacuate to the capital, Port-au-Prince, where they have family.

Stacks of bodies had disappeared Saturday outside the hospital, many of them buried in a mass grave.

Some tallies of the dead lagged behind. Dieufort Deslorges, a spokesman for Haiti's civil protection agency in Port-au-Prince, said it had recorded 1,286 dead and 1,129 missing. Officials said they expect to find hundreds of bodies in mud and collapsed homes. Officials say most of the missing can be presumed dead - washed out to sea or buried in storm debris.

The rains came as floodwaters finally began to recede from the city, where mud contaminated by overflowing sewage was forming a crust. People tried to fight the stench by holding limes or kerchiefs to their noses.

Contaminated water that overflowed from the open sewer system was a health hazard, and a team of specialists will be working to help "clean this mess" of mud, Kongo-Doudou said.

"We have to prevent the spread of diseases," he said, adding the United Nations would also be making an urgent international appeal in the coming days for more emergency aid for Haiti.

Deslorges said there was discussion about trying to evacuate people from parts of Gonaives, but said authorities in Gonaives had said a number of people didn't want to leave, preferring to stay with what was left of their belongings.

Genevieve Montaguere, a nun from Guadeloupe, said food distribution at one school had to be limited to women because gang members had bullied their way in to ensure that only their buddies got food.

The strongest, the Cannibal Army gang, began a rebellion here in February that quickly was joined by soldiers of Haiti's disbanded army and led to the February ouster of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The rebels refuse to disarm, adding to instability.

The United States sent troops and helped install an interim government now supported by a UN force. But the force still has only about 3,000 troops instead of a promised 8,000.

One truck carrying relief supplies from the Church of God was attacked on Friday when it entered Gonaives. People jumped on the moving truck, pried open the doors and threw out boxes of supplies. Troops shoved and pushed crowds off the truck.

They escorted it to the mud-caked camp of Argentine UN troops, who stood guard as church members threw out bananas, bottles of cooking oil and secondhand clothing. A stampede ensued with people diving into mud to grab what they could.

Planeloads of relief supplies from several nations and aid groups have arrived in Port-au-Prince, the capital to the south, but delivery has been delayed by damaged roads and security fears.

Aid trucks must ford floodwaters and mudslides on National Route 1, likely to be more hazardous after the rains. At least three trucks were mired in ditches along the road Friday.

The floods destroyed all of the rice and fruit harvest in the Artibonite, Haiti's breadbasket, "so now the country can't even feed itself without outside help," said Gavreau.

Some residents have taken to burying unclaimed corpses in their backyards. Others have objected to the unceremonious mass burials - with bodies tipped into a massive pit from dump trucks. Some fear health hazards. Many believe a corpse interred without ceremony will wander and commit evil acts.

The Washington-based Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization in Geneva on Friday deplored the mass burials.

"Contrary to popular belief . . . dead bodies will not lead to catastrophic outbreaks of exotic diseases," PAHO said, calling mass burials a "misguided action" that "can add to the burden of suffering."

The WHO said precautions only need to be taken by people handling the bodies.

The crisis was only the latest tragedy in Haiti, a country of eight million people that has suffered 30 coups. This week's was worsened by massive deforestation that left surrounding valleys unable to hold the rain unleashed by some 30 hours of pounding by Jeanne.

Before it hit Haiti, Jeanne lashed neighbouring Dominican Republic, where the death toll rose to 24 on Friday after rescue workers discovered five bodies crushed in a collapsed cave near the northern tourist town of Samana. Jeanne also killed seven people in Puerto Rico.


Sep. 22, 2004 SONIA VERMA

GONAIVES, Haiti - The only road in or out of this town is covered waist-deep in water.

It is the type of road that causes people to pray before crossing.

They cross in trucks, jeeps and sometimes by foot. Above the surface are overturned gasoline trucks that didn't make it. Below are the corpses of hundreds of people who are missing and presumed dead in the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne, which blew through Haiti on the weekend.

Gonaïves itself is a place marooned in misery. At night, people with nowhere else to go wander the streets. They bathe in dirty water, cook whatever food they manage to collect off the few aid trucks that have got through. At the Catholic church, a group of children on the balcony sings hymns.The number of Jeanne's victims in this desperately poor country climbed past 700 yesterday, with 600 of them in Gonaïves, a seaport in the northwest, the Associated Press reported. Officials estimate tens of thousands of people are homeless.

Flies buzzed around bloated corpses piled high at the city's three morgues, where the electricity was off as temperatures soared over 30C. Only about 30 of the 250 bodies at the morgue of the flood-damaged General Hospital have been identified, said Dr. Daniel Rubens of the International Red Cross. Many of the dead were children.

"I lost my kids and there's nothing I can do," said Jean Estimable, whose 2-year-old daughter was killed. Another of his five children was missing and presumed dead.

"We're going to start burying people in mass graves," said Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Some victims were buried Monday.

More than 1,000 people were missing, said Raoul Elysée, head of the Haitian Red Cross, which was trying desperately to find doctors to help. The international aid group CARE said 85 of its 200 workers in Gonaïves were unaccounted for.

"It's really catastrophic. We're still discovering bodies,'' said Françoise Gruloos of the U.N. Children's Fund.

The aid group Food for the Poor said it feared hundreds of possible flood victims might be out of reach.

Waterlines up to three metres high on the town's buildings marked the worst of a storm that sent water gushing down denuded hills, destroying homes and crops in the Artibonite region that is Haiti's breadbasket. Floodwaters receded, but half the community was still swamped with contaminated water four days after Jeanne passed. Not a house escaped damage.

The homeless sloshed through the streets carrying belongings on their heads, while people with houses that still had roofs tried to dry scavenged clothes.

Brazilian and Jordanian troops in the U.N. peacekeeping mission sent to stabilize Haiti after rebels ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February struggled to help the needy as aid workers ferried supplies of water and food.

CARE spokesman Rick Perera said the agency had hundreds of tonnes of dry food in Gonaïves and was trying to set up distribution points. Police said aid vehicles were being waylaid by mobs on the town's outskirts. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, Haiti's interim president, Boniface Alexandre, pleaded for help.

"In the face of this tragedy ... I appeal urgently for the solidarity of the international community so it may once again support the government in the framework of emergency assistance," he said.

Several nations were sending aid, including $1.8 million (U.S.) from the European Union and $1 million and rescue supplies from Venezuela.


21 September 2004

GONAIVES, Haiti - Tropical storm Jeanne devastated Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands before hitting the Dominican Republic and Haiti on 16 and 17 September. Jeanne is the fourth hurricane (downgraded to a tropical storm) to affect the Caribbean, following close on the heels of hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan, which have wreaked havoc on the Caribbean and parts of the United States in a period of less than one month.

Following in the wake of tropical storm Jeanne, heavy rains and raging flood waters have caused extensive flooding in the northern area of Hispaniola Island which comprises the Dominican Republic and Haiti. According to the Dominican Red Cross, four people lost their lives and 13,216 people have been seriously affected by the winds and flooding in the Dominican Republic. Due to massive deforestation, the worst affected country was Haiti, where two days of lashing rains caused massive flooding in more than half of the country. The affected departments are L’artibonite, Plateau Central, Sud and the Nord-Ouest. The town of Gonaïves was severely hit by the floods as well as Port de Paix.

According to the UN peacekeeping forces in Haiti, who were deployed immediately following the disaster, 500 bodies have been recovered in Gonaïves and there are reports of 56 dead in Port de Paix, 18 in Chasolme, 14 in Gros-Morne, 9 in Pilate and 9 in Ennery. The northern part of the country was described by the Primer Minister as a “vast sea” when he visited the area on 19th September. Floods and landslides had previously affected Haiti in May this year leaving at least 1,500 people dead and spreading devastation in the southern part of the country.
Action by Churches Together (ACT) - Switzerland


2004 Hurricane Briefs