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Jeanne: A Moment of Silence For Our Friends in Haiti
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Posted by:Sep 21st 2004, 11:35:22 am
Fig Tree News TeamPosted on Tue, Sep. 21, 2004

More than 600 bodies found in Haiti

BY SUSANNAH NESMITH
snesmith@herald.com

GONAIVES, Haiti - Gilbert Joseph lost one son, 10-year-old Fristel, when Tropical Storm Jeanne's flash floods crashed through this city. But he considers himself relatively lucky, because he saved his four other children from the waters that killed more than 600 others.

''He got away from me,'' Joseph said Monday. ``I couldn't do anything; I watched him die.''

Joseph was not the only one to stare into the face of death when Jeanne's rains hit. Some 500 bodies have been brought to the morgue in Gonaives and another 56 died in the northern coastal city of Port-de-Paix, said Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti. An additional 17 died in the nearby town of Terre Neuve, officials said.

Dieufort Deslorges, a spokesman for the government civil protection agency, reported another 49 bodies recovered in other villages and towns, most in the northwest.

Eighty percent of the 200,000 people in Gonaives, a port city a two-hour drive north of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, were affected in some way by the floods and mudslides, the U.N. added.

Sherley Pavril said she first realized the water was rising when it came under her door early Sunday. When she went outside, she saw three bodies floating down her street. ''I thought it was the end of the world,'' she told The Herald.

Like hundreds of her neighbors, Pavril spent all night on her roof. Michel Saint Juste said the water in his house rose so rapidly he had to break through the roof to get out.

Pavril said she watched, horrified, as the water tore down some of the houses around hers and plunged her neighbors into the flood. She's certain that they all drowned.

Muddy water still covered much of Gonaives on Monday, more than 24 hours after the waters rose, leaving marks 10 feet up on walls. Rescuers went from wrecked house to wrecked house looking for bodies, and several cars were half-covered in water.

Gonaives lies at the western end of the Artibonite valley, Haiti's breadbasket, but like most of the hemisphere's poorest nation, it is almost entirely denuded of trees, cut down to make charcoal for cooking. The lack of trees allows rains to wash easily down into the valley's four rivers, which regularly turn into watery avalanches.

As the waters receded, Joseph trudged with thousands of others through knee-high mud and water in downtown Gonaives, some looking for higher ground to spend the night, others looking for food, still others searching for missing loved ones.

A dead man floated in the city's center. About one-third of the bodies stacked in Gonaives' flood-damaged General Hospital were children, The Associated Press reported.

''People are eating what they find in the water, bananas and even dead animals,'' said Carlos Verna, an employee of the Chachoo Hotel near the Gonaives hospital, which stood empty Monday, gutted by the muddy waters.

''Up until now, I have been living on my roof,'' said Remy Saint Juste, a government port inspector. ``My five children? On the roof!''

He carried a sack over his shoulder, hoping to find food in the city's center.

U.N. peacekeeping forces, deployed in Haiti since a February revolt that forced former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to leave the country, flew 12 relief missions to Gonaives on Sunday, said Denise Cook, a U.N. spokeswoman in New York City. Argentine peacekeepers also treated 380 injured people.

And the U.N. World Food Programme sent a convoy of 12 trucks carrying some 40 metric tons of food to Gonaives, the relief agency said in a statement.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, after a brief inspection tour Sunday, declared Gonaives a disaster zone and thanked the U.N. troops for their rescue and relief efforts.

But Saint Juste said he hadn't heard of any assistance reaching his city. ``If someone is giving out food, I don't know where they are. I have enough for tonight and that's it. We need help soon.''

Jeanne's flood waters have almost completely cut off the city from the outside world. They washed over the road from Port-au-Prince, and the only vehicles to get through are large trucks and four-wheel drive SUVs.

And those need guides perched on the hoods to show drivers the shallow parts.

''I've been doing this all day, one truck at a time,'' said Senou Gracia, who charged a little less than $10 to direct drivers through waters that still come in under the doors and make engines sputter.

''If you don't know the road, you'll end up in the field, and you'll never get out,'' he said after one successful crossing. Although it was only a tropical storm when it swept from east to west just north of Haiti, Jeanne, now a hurricane, has claimed more lives in the Caribbean than hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan put together.

At least 11 people drowned in the Dominican Republic on Monday from its flooding, and three people died in Puerto Rico.

Herald staff writer Michael A.W. Ottey contributed to this report from Miami.

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