At least 600 dead in Haiti after tropical storm

Bloated corpses filled morgues as Haitians faced yet another tragedy in a year marked by revolts, military interventions and deadly floods. At least 622 people were killed by Tropical Storm Jeanne, and officials expect to find many more bodies.

The corpses of two children lay on a sidewalk on Monday in Gonaives, where one-third of the dead brought to the hospital were children. More than 500 people had died in the sprawling northern city, said Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesperson for the United Nations mission.

Another 17 died in the nearby town of Terre Neuve, agriculture official Madiro Morilus said, and 56 bodies were found in the northern city of Port-de-Paix, according to Kongo-Doudou.

Dieufort Deslorges, a spokesperson for the government civil protection agency, reported another 49 bodies recovered in other villages and towns, most in the north-west.

“We expect to find dozens more bodies, especially in Gonaives, as ...
floodwaters recede,” Deslorges said.

Tropical Storm Jeanne entered the Caribbean last week, killing seven people in the United States territory of Puerto Rico before heading to the Dominican Republic, where it killed at least 18.

The toll is highest in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world where deforestation has made even light rain deadly. More than 90% of Haiti’s trees have been chopped down, mostly to make charcoal. Without roots and foliage, there is nothing to hold water back from low-lying towns.

The world’s first black republic and the only one to launch a successful rebellion against slavery, Haiti marked 200 years of independence amid political turmoil in January. A month later, a three-month rebellion ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and brought a US-led military force.

In May, disaster struck again with floods that killed more than 3 000 people on the Haitian-Dominican border on the island of Hispaniola.

Jeanne regained hurricane strength on Monday, but was far out in the Atlantic, posing no threat to land.

“I lost my kids and there’s nothing I can do,” said Jesner Estimable (35), who brought the body of his 2-year-old daughter to Argentine peacekeepers on Monday. Soldiers put the corpse in a body bag while her mother wailed. Another one of the couple’s children was still missing.

“All I have is complete despair and the clothes I’m wearing,” he said, pointing to a floral dress and ripped pants borrowed from a neighbour.

In Gonaives, a city of about a quarter of a million people, residents waded through ankle-deep mud outside the mayor’s office, where workers were shovelling out mud and doctors treated the wounded. Aid workers were helping a woman give birth.

Floodwaters destroyed homes and crops from corn to onions in the Artibonite region that is Haiti’s breadbasket, and turned roads into torrential rivers up to 3m deep.

Katya Silme (18) said her family spent the night in a tree because their house was flooded.

“Now we have nothing. We have not eaten anything since the floods,” said Silme.

Argentine troops said they helped treat 140 injured, most for cuts to feet and legs. Officials said another 500 others were treated on Monday at city hall, where doctors, nurses and medication are urgently needed.

Three trucks carrying Red Cross relief supplies rolled in on Monday, but two were mobbed by people who grabbed blankets and towels. UN troops stood by watching. Only one truck arrived intact with tents.

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.

“I would like to see if the soldiers could do something about these bodies,” said Jean-Saint Manus, a 30-year-old student. “The door was closed. Everybody was trapped inside.”

He said he had been outside and could only get in once the floods subsided.

Elsewhere, people tripped over each other to get bags of water thrown from a Red Cross truck.

“Everyone is desperate,” said Pelissier Heber of the Artibonite Chamber of Commerce.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue toured flooded areas on Sunday and declared Gonaives a disaster area, calling for aid. The US embassy announced $60 000 in immediate relief.

In the Dominican Republic, at least 11 people drowned on Monday, said Jose Luis German, spokesperson for the National Emergency Committee.

At 3am GMT, Jeanne was about 655km east of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas, with winds near 140kph, moving north-east at about 11kph.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Karl and Tropical Storm Lisa remained far out in the Atlantic. Karl’s sustained winds were 220kph, making it a category-three hurricane. Lisa had winds of 95kph.—Sapa-AP

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