From: Amy Bracken, Associated Press
Published September 22, 2004 12:00 AM

Death Toll Rises to 691 in Haiti; Hundreds Left Homeless

GONAIVES, Haiti — Blood swirled in knee-deep floodwaters as workers stacked bodies outside the hospital morgue Tuesday. Carcasses of pigs, goats, and dogs and pieces of smashed furniture floated in muddy streams that once were the streets of this battered city.


The death toll across Haiti from the weekend deluges brought by Tropical Storm Jeanne was at 691, with some 600 of them in Gonaives, but officials said they expected to find more dead.


Waterlines up to 10 feet (three meters) high on Gonaives' buildings marked the worst of the storm that sent water and mudslides gushing down denuded hills, destroying homes and crops in the Artibonite region that is Haiti's breadbasket.


Floodwaters receded, but half of Haiti's third-largest city was still swamped with contaminated water up to two feet deep four days after Jeanne passed. Not a house in the city of 250,000 people 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.


"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.


Flies buzzed around bloated corpses piled high at the city's three morgues, where the electricity was off as temperatures reached into the 90s. Many of the dead at the flood-damaged General Hospital 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.


Dieufort Deslorges, spokesman for the civil protection agency, said he expected the death toll to rise as reports came in from outlying villages.


Deslorges said the toll Tuesday stood at 691 dead across the country, with about 600 of them in Gonaives.


He said some 250,000 people were homeless because of the storm and that it destroyed at least 4,000 homes.


More than 1,000 people were missing, said Raoul Elysee, 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 Gonaives were unaccounted for.


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 to victims.


CARE spokesman Rick Perera said the agency had about 660 tons of dry food in Gonaives, including corn-soy blend, dried lentils, and cooking oil, and was working to set up distribution points.


Argentine soldiers who are among more than 3,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti treated at least 150 people injured by the floods in Gonaives, mostly for cuts on feet and legs. Barefooted survivors tore their feet on shards of zinc roofing lurking in the floodwaters.


One man stood outside the flooded base used by Argentine troops, asking soldiers to remove 11 bodies that were floating in his house, including four brothers and a sister.


Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, 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.


The European Union sent US$1.8 million in urgent aid Tuesday, to be distributed by the Red Cross and other aid agencies, according to E.U. Development Commissioner Poul Nielson.


On Monday, the U.S. Embassy announced $60,000 in immediate relief aid. That was criticized by U.S. Congressman Kendrick Meek, a Democrat who represents Miami-Dade and Broward counties, who said the money was "a drop in the bucket" compared to what Haitians needed.


"The government of Haiti is totally unequipped and unable to deal with this massive crisis because they have neither the resources nor the organization," Meek said in a statement. "Private voluntary groups are reportedly overwhelmed by the enormity of this crisis."


A police officer in Gonaives said aid vehicles were having trouble getting into the city because people on the outskirts were mobbing them. One truck made it to the central City Hall, only to be attacked by people who squeezed inside and threw packets of the water it was carrying into the crowd. People screamed and scratched around in muddy waters for the water bags. Finally, the driver took off, with people falling off the truck as he screeched away.


Floods are particularly devastating in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, because it is almost completely deforested, leaving few roots to hold back rushing waters or mudslides. Most of the trees have been chopped down to make charcoal for cooking.


Jeanne came four months after devastating floods along Haiti's southern border with the Dominican Republic. Some 1,700 bodies were recovered, and 1,600 more were presumed dead.


Gonaives also suffered fighting during the February rebellion that led to the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and left an estimated 300 dead.


All this in a year supposed to be dedicated to celebrating the 200th anniversary of the country's independence from France. Haiti, the only country to launch a successful rebellion against slavery, was the world's first black republic.


Two days after lashing Haiti, Jeanne regained hurricane strength over the Atlantic on Monday but posed no immediate threat to land. The storm entered the Caribbean last week, killing seven people in Puerto Rico before heading to the Dominican Republic, where it killed at least 18, including 11 who drowned Monday in swollen rivers. The overall death toll was 647.


Jeanne, with winds that reached hurricane strength Friday but weakened to 70 mph as it lashed the Dominican Republic and Haiti, was about 485 miles east of Great Abaco island in the Bahamas on Tuesday.


Hurricane Karl's 125 mph winds were no danger to land, as the storm stayed out in the Atlantic Ocean about 1,005 miles east-northeast of the Leeward Islands. Tropical Storm Lisa, with winds of 60 mph, was about 1,055 miles west of the West African island of Cape Verde.


Source: Associated Press


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