Death Toll Rises to More Than 700 in Floods in Haiti; Officials Estimate 250,000 Homeless
GONAIVES, Haiti U.N. peacekeepers fired into the air to keep a hungry crowd at bay Wednesday, as aid workers handed out bread, the first food in days for some in this city devastated by floods that have killed more than 700 people in Haiti.
Jeanne, the storn that caused the destruction in Haiti and has since regained hurricane strength over the open Atlantic this week, could head back toward the Bahamas and the United States, threatening the storm-battered southeast U.S. coast as early as this weekend, forecasters said Wednesday.
It was too soon to tell where or if Jeanne would hit, but the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned it could kick up dangerous surf and rip currents along islands in the northwest and central Bahamas and along the southeast U.S. coast over the next few days.
More than 1,000 people have been declared missing in Haiti. The northern city of Gonaives was the hardest hit in the country, with some 600 dead. Piles of bodies grew in morgues as rescuers found more victims in mud and rubble.
More than 200 people lined up along a fence around Gonaives Roman Catholic cathedral Wednesday, as CARE aid workers began passing bread through a gate in the fence. As the line disintegrated and the pressing crowd threatened to bring down the fence, U.N. peacekeepers fired several shots into the air. Order was restored and no one was hurt.
On Wednesday, people who slept uncovered in muddy streets and near piles of rubble in Gonaives' Place d'Armes, the central square, woke to wails and another morning without breaking their fast.
"Woy!" The traditional shriek of mourning cut through the air.
Carcasses of pigs, goats, and dogs still floated in muddy waters slowly receding from the streets in Gonaives, Haiti's third-largest city with some 250,000 people. No house escaped damage. The homeless sloshed through the streets carrying belongings on their heads, while people in homes that still had roofs tried to dry scavenged clothes.
Flies buzzed around bloated corpses piled high at the city's three morgues. The electricity was off, and the stench of death hung over the city.
Haitian Red Cross officials said they began mass burials Wednesday at the Bois Marchand cemetery, though there was no activity when a reporter visited.
Graveyard manager Bony Jeudy said 78 people have been buried in five graves since Monday at the public cemetery.
"They come from all over, mostly on wooden carts: adults, children, and babies. They were brought in by friends, families, and strangers," he said of the bodies.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Haitian health engineers were expected in Gonaives on Thursday with creoline and other materials to treat bodies.
Relatives waited outside a morgue set up in the flood-damaged General Hospital all Tuesday to identify and bury victims. But vehicles to carry bodies to the cemetery never arrived. Most bodies remained unidentified.
Destilor Aldajus, a 50-year-old farmer, said he and his six children climbed onto their roof to escape the floods. But he was at the morgue looking for his wife.
"I couldn't find her, but I knew the water had taken her," he said.
Red Cross volunteers put more than 100 bodies into body bags, leaving them in a pile outside the morgue.
"We're going to start burying people in mass graves," said Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti.
Renel Corvil, a 32-year-old farmer, said he had come to the morgue every day since Saturday to look for his four missing children. On Tuesday, he found them. But after waiting all day for the bodies to be taken to the cemetery, he left to bury a fifth child whose corpse was already at the graveyard.
As they waited, survivors exchanged tales. "Everyone in my neighborhood who survived had climbed a tree," Corvil said.
Waterlines up to 10 feet high on Gonaives' buildings marked the worst of the storm, which sent torrents of water and mudslides down denuded hills, destroying homes and crops.
Dieufort Deslorges, spokesman for Haiti's civil protection agency, said he expected the death toll to rise as reports come in from outlying villages and rescuers dig through mudslides and rubble.
Last week, Jeanne also killed seven people in Puerto Rico and 19 in Dominican Republic, including 12 who drowned Monday in swollen rivers. The overall death toll was 717.
At 11 a.m., Jeanne was centered about 530 miles east of the Bahamian island of Great Abaco. It was moving toward the south, with a gradual turn southwest and west expected in the next day. Hurricane-force winds extended out 45 miles and tropical-storm force winds another 140 miles.
Also out in the open Atlantic, Tropical Storm Lisa is forecast to take a big swing northward in the next five days, diverting it from a track toward the Leeward Islands, Williams said. And Hurricane Karl was expected to keep moving away from North America.
Source: Associated Press