Article on flooding in Haiti

Posted on Wed, Sep. 03, 2008
 Hanna flooding strands hungry Haitians on rooftops

 Entering a flooded city on inflatable boats, U.N. peacekeepers found hundreds
 of hungry people stranded for two days on rooftops and upper floors Wednesday
 as the fetid carcasses of drowned farm animals bobbed in soupy floodwaters.

 Haiti seems cursed this hurricane season, with its crops ruined and at least
 126 people killed by three storms in less than three weeks. Even as Tropical
 Storm Hanna edged away to the north, forecasters warned that a fourth storm –
 Hurricane Ike – could hit the Western hemisphere’s poorest country as a major
 storm next week.

“If we keep going like this, the whole country is going to crash,” moaned Mario
Marcelus, who was trying to reach his family in Gonaives but didn’t dare cross  the floodwaters.

 Rescue convoys had been trying to drive into Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth-largest
 city, but kept turning back because lakes formed over every road into town. On
 Wednesday, Associated Press journalists accompanied the first group of U.N.
 troops to reach the city aboard Zodiac boats.

Argentine soldiers based in Gonaives plucked residents from rooftops that were
the only visible parts of their houses. In a cemetery, only the tops of tombs glimmered beneath the water. The carcasses of dead animals, including a donkey
 and a cow, floated amid debris as flies swarmed.
 About 150 people were crowded into a church. Most retreated to a large balcony
 above the floodwater, where they waited in misery for the waters to recede.

 “There is no food, no water, no clothes,” said the 37-year-old pastor, Arnaud
 Dumas. “I want to know what I’m supposed to do. … We haven’t found anything  to eat in two, three days. Nothing at all.”

 The Gonaives area, where about 110,000 people live, accounted for most of the
 2,000 victims of Tropical Storm Jeanne in 2004. Some residents said the current
 flooding was at least as bad, and criticized the government for failing to
 implement safety measures in the past four years.

 “This is worse than Jeanne,” said Carol Jerome, who fled from Gonaive on
 About two-thirds of Gonaives was covered in mud, although it was difficult to
 determine the extent of the flooding from the air, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman
 Matt Moorlag said after planes conducted flyovers. Severe weather prevented the
 planes from assessing the situation in the surrounding mountains, and there was
 no way to reach the area.

 In the chaos, there was no way of knowing how many people might be dead in the
 area, or how many had been driven from their homes. People kept a wary eye on
 water levels, which appeared to be holding steady on Wednesday as Hanna moved
 farther offshore.

 On the ground, men used pieces of styrofoam as kickboards to try to swim out of
 town. People waited for help along the shores of the newly formed lake, and
 Interior Minister Paul Antoine Bien-Aime said people stranded on rooftops were
 becoming increasingly desperate.

 “It is a great movement of panic in the city,” Bien-Aime told AP as Brazilian
soldiers assigned to the 9,000-member U.N. force carried him onto an idling

 Businesses were closed – both because of flooding and for fear of looting – and
 supplies were running short. People in water up to their knees called to
 Argentine peacekeepers in Spanish, shouting “Give me water!” Women on balconies
 held up empty pots and waved spoons, signaling their hunger.

 About 1,500 people huddled in a shelter they nicknamed the “Haiti Hilton.”
 Director Jean-Noel Preval said there was no food and the shelter was running
 out of drinking water.

His cousin Jezula Preval gave birth at the shelter to a healthy boy on Tuesday
night. Jezula Preval, 23, said she tried to hold out at home, but the rain drove her out and floodwaters eventually swallowed her house.

 “I lost everything, even the baby’s clothes,” she said.

 The situation was dire elsewhere in Haiti as well. Floodwaters swamped a
 hospital near southwestern Les Cayes, and nurses moved patients to higher
 floors. At least 5,000 people in Les Cayes were in shelters, said Jean-Renand
 Valiere, a coordinator for the civil protection department.

 The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince declared a disaster situation, freeing
 US$100,000 in emergency aid, spokeswoman Mari Tolliver said. She said hygiene
 kits, plastic sheeting and water jugs for up to 5,000 families are expected to
 arrive from Miami on Thursday.

“The biggest problem right now is just getting access to affected areas,” she

 Even as Hanna moved offshore, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said
 Hurricane Ike in the central North Atlantic would gain strength as it
 approached the Caribbean and “could reach major hurricane status” within five

 Its course remained uncertain, but the most likely track passed just north of
the Haitian coastline.


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