Number Of Dead From Haiti Floods Tops 1,070, With 1,250 Others Missing
GONAIVES, Haiti Trucks dumped scores of bodies into a mass grave in this flood-ravaged city still littered with corpses, as officials said the death toll from Tropical Storm Jeanne rose to more than 1,070 and could double again.
There was no funeral ceremony when the bodies were dumped into a 14-foot-deep hole at sunset Wednesday. Dozens of bystanders shrieked, held their noses against the stench and demanded officials collect bodies in nearby waterlogged fields.
The confirmed death toll rose to 1,072, with 1,013 bodies recovered in Gonaives alone, according to Dieufort Deslorges, spokesman for the government's civil protection agency.
He said the number of people missing in the floods rose to 1,250.
Only a couple dozen bodies have been identified, and nobody was taking count at the site of the mass grave.
"We're demanding they come and take the bodies from our fields. Dogs are eating them," said bystander Jean Lebrun, listing demands made by residents of in the neighborhood whose opposition to mass graves had delayed burials.
"We can only drink the water people died in," the 35-year-old farmer said, citing a lack of potable water in this city of 250,000, with parts still knee-deep in water five days after the storm's passage.
Hurricane experts said Wednesday that Jeanne now over the open Atlantic as a hurricane could loop around and head toward the Bahamas then threaten the storm-weary southeastern United States as early as this weekend.
It was too soon to tell where or if Jeanne would hit, but the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned people in the northwest and central Bahamas and southeastern U.S. coast to beware of dangerous surf kicked up by Jeanne in coming days.
Jeanne's rain-laden system proved deadly in Haiti, where more than 98 percent of the land is deforested and torrents of water and mudslides smashed down denuded hills and into the city, destroying homes and crops. Floodwater lines on buildings went up to 10 feet high.
The disaster follows devastating floods in May, along the Haiti-Dominican Republic border, which left official tolls of 1,191 dead and 1,484 missing in Haiti and 395 dead and 274 missing on the Dominican side. The countries share the island of Hispaniola.
Survivors in Haiti's third largest city were hungry, thirsty, and increasingly desperate. U.N. peacekeepers fired into the air Wednesday to keep a crowd at bay as aid workers handed out loaves of bread _ the first food in days for some.
Aid agencies have dry food stocked in Gonaives, but few have the means to cook. Food for the Poor, based in Deerfield, Fla., said its truckloads of relief were unable to reach Gonaives on Wednesday because roads were washed away and blocked by mudslides. Troops from the Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping forcing were ferrying in some supplies by helicopter.
"The situation is not getting better because people have been without food or water for three or four days," said Hans Havik, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Deslorges said there still were dozens of unrecovered bodies. "There are bodies in the water, in the mud, in collapsed houses and floating in houses that were absolutely covered by the floods."
Last week, Jeanne also killed seven people in Puerto Rico and at least 19 in Dominican Republic. The overall death toll for the Caribbean was at least 1,098.
At the grave in Gonaives, Raoul Elysee of the Haitian Red Cross said between 100 and 200 were buried and the rest would be buried Thursday.
The decomposing bodies have officials fearful of health risks. Havik said the contamination of water sources and flooding of latrines could cause an outbreak of waterborne diseases.
Martine Vice-Aimee, an 18-year-old mother of two whose home was destroyed, said people already were getting ill.
"People are getting sick from the water, they're walking in it, their skin is getting itchy and rashes. The water they're drinking is giving them stomach aches."
She stood in a long line but didn't know what she was waiting for outside Gonaives' Roman Catholic cathedral, where hours earlier aid workers had handed out the bread. She said she had been afraid to fight her way through the crowd.
Havik's federation made a worldwide appeal Wednesday for $3.3 million to fund relief operations to 40,000 Haitian victims, and several nations were sending aid. Many nations are sending help, with the biggest contributions from the European Union and Venezuela.
At 5 p.m., Jeanne was centered about 500 miles east of the Bahamian island of Great Abaco. It was moving west-southwest and was expected to strengthen and turn toward the west. Hurricane-force winds extended 45 miles and tropical-storm force winds out to 140 miles.
Also out in the open Atlantic, Tropical Storm Lisa was forecast to take a swing northward in the next five days, diverting it from a track toward the Leeward Islands. Forecasters said Hurricane Karl was expected to keep moving away from North America over the Atlantic.