- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

GONAIVES, Haiti - Blood swirled in knee-deep floodwaters as workers stacked bodies outside the hospital morgue yesterday. Carcasses of pigs, goats and dogs, and pieces of smashed furniture floated in muddy streams that once were the streets of this battered city. Desperate people swarmed a truck delivering water.

The death toll across Haiti from the weekend deluges brought by Tropical Storm Jeanne rose to 691, with 600 of them in Gonaives, and officials said they expected to find more dead and estimated that tens of thousands of people were homeless.

Half the crowded northern city was still underwater from the weekend’s devastating wind and rain.

Gonaives was hardest hit in the latest tragedy to beset Haiti in a year of revolts, military interventions and devastating floods. Bodies, including those of many children, were stacked at the city’s main morgue, where weeping relatives searched for loved ones.

Earlier, Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, reportefd that at least 500 people were killed in the city.

“I lost my kids and there’s nothing I can do,” said Jean Estimable, whose 2-year-old daughter was killed and another of his five children was missing and presumed dead.

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

Floods are particularly damaging in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, because it is almost completely deforested, leaving few roots to hold back rushing waters or mudslides. Most of the trees have been chopped down to make charcoal for cooking.

Jeanne lashed Haiti on Saturday, four months after devastating floods along the southern border of Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic. Some 1,700 bodies were recovered and 1,600 more were missing and presumed dead.

Jeanne regained hurricane strength over the Atlantic on Monday but posed no immediate threat to land. At 5 a.m. yesterday, it was moving east-northeast with 90 mph winds, about 445 miles east of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas.

The storm entered the Caribbean last week, killing seven persons in Puerto Rico before heading to the Dominican Republic, where it killed at least 18. The overall death toll from Jeanne stands at 647 — 622 of them in Haiti.

Aid workers were struggling to get relief to victims amid worries about looting and crime, said Hans Havik from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Three trucks carrying Red Cross relief supplies rolled into Gonaives on Monday, but before they could reach their destination at the mayor’s office, two of them were mobbed by people who grabbed blankets and towels. U.N. troops stood by watching.

Dieufort Deslorges, a spokesman for the government civil-protection agency, described the situation in Gonaives as “catastrophic.”

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

Gonaives, a city of about a quarter million people, also suffered from fighting during the February rebellion that led to the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and left an estimated 300 dead.

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