Death toll rises to more than 700 in floods in Haiti
Associated Press Writer
GONAIVES, Haiti (AP) – Bodies lay in growing piles outside morgues as U.N. peacekeepers planned the first major distribution of food and water Wednesday in this city devastated by floods that have torn apart families and left hungry crowds that have mobbed truckloads of aid.
The death toll from deluges unleashed by Tropical Storm Jeanne climbed to the more than 700, Haitian officials said Tuesday, with more than 600 of them in Gonaives alone. More than 1,000 others were declared missing.
Jeanne, meanwhile, regained hurricane strength over the open Atlantic this week and could head back toward the United States and threaten the storm-battered Southeast coast, including Florida, 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 southeastern U.S. coast over the next few days.
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. 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.
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.
Relatives waited outside a morgue set up in the flood-damaged General Hospital all day 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 bodies to be taken to the cemetery, he left to bury a fifth child that already had been transported to 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 that 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.
Deslorges said rescue workers reported recovering 691 bodies – about 600 of them in Gonaives and more than 40 in northern Port-de-Paix. Noel Madiro Morilus, director of Terre Neuve agriculture department, said 17 people died in that farming center north of Gonaives.
“Certainly there are more than 700 dead, certainly there are dozens more dead,” Deslorges told the AP. “It appears many were swept away to the sea, there are bodies still buried in mud and rubble, or floating in water, and that’s not to mention the hundreds who are missing and the places we have not yet been able to reach.”
Some 1,056 people were missing, almost all from Gonaives, Deslorges said.
Deslorges said some 250,000 people were homeless across the country, and the storm destroyed at least 4,000 homes and damaged unknown thousands more.
Eight helicopters from a Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping force shuttled shipments of water, food and supplies to Gonaives on Tuesday after Chilean troops found the road from the north impassable, said Argentine Lt. Col. Gaston Irigoyen, a spokesman.
Interim President Boniface Alexandre pleaded for urgent emergency help at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.
Several nations were sending aid, including $1.8 million from the European Union and $1 million and rescue supplies from Venezuela. The U.S. Embassy announced $60,000 in immediate relief aid Monday, drawing criticism from legislator Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., who called it “a drop in the bucket.”
Irigoyen said troops planned to oversee distribution of food and water on Wednesday. That could produce a riot among survivors, many of whom said they had not eaten since the storm.
A police officer in Gonaives said aid vehicles were having trouble getting into the city because people 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 water into the scrambling crowd.
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.
Last week, Jeanne killed seven in Puerto Rico and 19 in Dominican Republic, including 12 who drowned Monday in swollen rivers. The overall death toll was 717.
On the Net:
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
Weather Underground storm site: http://www.wunderground.com/tropical