The New York Times
September 21, 2004

Flooding From Storm Kills More Than 550 in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Sept. 20 - More than 550 people died in Haiti over the weekend from flooding and mudslides set off by Tropical Storm Jeanne, according to aid workers, who said half of the northern city of Gonaïves was still under water on Monday.

More than 500 people died in Gonaïves, said Elie Cantave, the government delegate for the Arbonite Province, where the city is situated.

United Nations peacekeeping forces had unconfirmed reports of another 150 dead in that city, said the United Nations coordinator, Adama Guindo.

The northern city was the birthplace of Haiti's independence from France 200 years ago, and it was where an armed revolt began this year that led to the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Forty-seven people were also confirmed killed in the Northwest Province, around the town of Port-de-Paix, said Henry-Max Thelus, a government official. Eight deaths were recorded elsewhere, bringing the total confirmed toll to 556.

Interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue declared three days of national mourning.

Half of Gonaïves remained under water, and 80 percent of its inner urban population of more than 100,000 had been affected by the floods, which at one point forced hundreds of people to take cover on the roofs of their homes, said Anne Poulsen, spokeswoman in Haiti for the United Nations World Food Program.

Twelve trucks carrying 44 tons of food were scheduled to leave the capital, Port-au-Prince, for Gonaïves, she said.

The World Health Organization planned to deliver medicine, and 15 trucks from the Brazilian-led peacekeeping force went to reinforce a detachment of Argentine peacekeepers stationed in the city.

"It's not just people's houses, it's also crops and livestock that have been washed away,'' Ms. Poulsen said. "So it will take quite some months before people will be able to cope by themselves again. Nature is tough on Haiti."

Haiti is frequently lashed by flash floods and mudslides because of extensive deforestation. About 2,000 Haitians died when extensive floods washed away villages near the Dominican-Haitian border in May.

Mr. Congo-Doudou said that at the height of the flooding, the water was nine feet deep in Gonaïves and the current was so strong it that swept away heavy military trucks. United Nations helicopters were used to pluck people from their rooftops, and a woman who was about to give birth in the street as muddy waters swirled around her legs was rescued by United Nations police officers.

Jeanne, which last Thursday briefly became a hurricane with winds in excess of 75 miles per hour, also killed 11 people in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, and two in Puerto Rico.

The latest cyclone in an unusually busy Atlantic hurricane season, the storm was moving slowly northward to the east of the Bahamas at 11 a.m. on Monday, with maximum sustained winds of 65 m.p.h.

It presented no immediate threat to land, the National Hurricane Center said, and was expected to swing to the northeast. That would spare Florida, hit by three big hurricanes in the past five weeks.

Likewise, Hurricane Karl presented no immediate threat to land as it swirled in the Atlantic 1,000 miles east-northeast of the Lesser Antilles, with winds of 120 m.p.h. A new storm formed in the Atlantic on Monday. Tropical Storm Lisa was 810 miles west of the Cape Verde islands by 11 a.m., with 60 m.p.h. winds as it took a westerly track that would move it through the Caribbean toward the Gulf of Mexico.