- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

MAPOU, Haiti — The American troops who came to Haiti to keep order after a bloody revolt had ousted its president now find themselves helping out in a different crisis as they prepare to leave a nation devastated by floods.

The troops control the few helicopters that can reach inaccessible areas ravaged by floods that have killed more than 1,700 in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In the past few days, they have airlifted more than 50 tons of food and drinking water and evacuated the injured from submerged towns like Mapou.

But the Americans symbolically hand over the operation to a U.N. force today, even though only a fraction of the planned 8,000 troops and police are here yet.

Most of the 1,900 U.S. troops will stay until the end of June, but what happens after that is an open question. The U.N. forces haven’t brought helicopters needed to help flood victims, and Haitians will need all the help they can get.

“On the one hand, we’ll leave with a sense of accomplishment,” said Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, spokesman for the U.S.-led multinational task force that was sent to secure and stabilize the nation. “On the other hand, there’s so much this place needs.”

Most of the Marines arrived three months ago, in the days after the Feb. 29 ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The Marines had a mixed welcome, with hostility from Aristide supporters that was much different from the joyous reception they got in 1994 when they invaded to restore Mr. Aristide after a 1991 coup.

Then, nearly a week ago, the floods and mudslides brought on by three days of heavy rain wiped out entire villages in Haiti’s southeast corner around a farming community called Mapou. More than 1,700 people were killed in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the Red Cross estimates 1,500 are missing around Mapou alone.

The troops’ flood-relief efforts have muted much of the initial criticism levied from the Aristide crisis.

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