- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

GONAIVES, Haiti — The death toll from Tropical Storm Jeanne shot up to an estimated 1,500 yesterday, with 900 Haitians still missing as a thunderstorm drenched the homeless who are living on rooftops and sidewalks.

U.N. peacekeepers said they were sending reinforcements to help keep order among desperate survivors who have been looting aid trucks and mobbing food distribution centers.

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue estimated more than 1,500 dead, said Paul Magloire, an adviser. At least 900 more were missing. Some 300,000 are homeless, most in the northwestern city of Gonaives.

Mr. Magloire said that the government was considering a rotating evacuation of the mud-coated and soggy city to allow cleanup operations. He said the plan was still under discussion, but the idea was to move people temporarily to tent camps while workers cleaned and disinfected neighborhood by neighborhood.

With gang members trying to steal food out of the hands of people at aid centers, 140 Uruguayan soldiers were on their way to reinforce about 600 U.N. peacekeepers already in this hard-hit city, said Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the U.N. mission.

“Security is one of our major concerns,” he said.

A U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator, Eric Mouillesarine, said people were mobbing relief workers and “there’s nothing we can do.”

U.N. troops from Argentina fired smoke grenades Friday when about 500 men, women and children tried to break into a schoolyard where CARE International was handing out grain and water to an orderly line of women. The sunburned, unwashed flood victims returned in surges once the air cleared.

During the night, lightning bolts lit the sky above blacked-out Gonaives, thunderclaps exploded and sheets of rain lashed the thousands living on the street and on concrete roofs of flooded homes.

The rain cleared up yesterday morning, but floodwaters rose again in some mud-coated areas of the city that had dried out in the week since Jeanne struck.

Some people said they hoped to evacuate the city.

“If one person gets sick, we’ll all be sick,” said Ysemarie Saint-Louis, who spent the night on her roof with more than 30 relatives who crowded under a small tin shelter during the thunderstorm. When the rain let up, they went back to sleep on wet mattresses and blankets.

Genevieve Montaguere, a nun from Guadeloupe, said relief deliveries were being limited to women because gangsters had bullied their way in earlier to make sure that only their associates got food.

The strongest gang, the Cannibal Army, began a rebellion here in February that quickly was joined by soldiers of Haiti’s disbanded army. The rebels refuse to disarm, keeping the country unstable.

It was unclear which gangs were causing trouble, Mr. Kongo-Doudou said. “The city is just filled with gangs.”

A list of international aid agencies accepting contributions for those affected in Haiti can be found at the Internet site www.interaction.org.

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