The Miami Herald
Mon, Sep. 27, 2004

Hunger, sickness impede recovery

Associated Press

GONAIVES, Haiti - Haitians surrounded by the destruction from Tropical Storm Jeanne prayed for the 1,500 dead and gave thanks that their lives were spared at church services Sunday, while the United Nations rushed more peacekeepers in to stem looting in the ravaged city of Gonaives.

Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira, the Brazilian army commander in charge of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti, criticized the slow pace of relief reaching residents, many of whom aid officials say have not eaten in five days or more.

''The situation remains critical,'' Pereira said in an interview with the official Agencia Brasil. ``Even those who were not directly affected are going hungry without enough water and are suffering from a shortage of medicine and medical assistance, because the government infrastructure was already weak and, after this tragedy, is virtually nonexistent.''

Pereira said that many people were suffering from diarrhea and that others, many of them children, were contracting gangrene.

Amputations were being performed under horrendous conditions, he said.


Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said Saturday that the storm had killed at least 1,500 people.

Abel Nazaire of the civil defense agency reported that more bodies were recovered from debris in Gonaives on Sunday, raising the number of confirmed dead to 1,330, with 1,056 missing and 2,601 injured.

Nazaire acknowledged that many of the missing could be presumed dead -- washed out to sea or killed in collapsed homes in areas that were still inaccessible a week after the storm's passing.

He said the road north from Gonaives to Cap-Haitien remained impassable because of mudslides, keeping officials from reaching possibly thousands of victims.


About 300,000 people are homeless because of the storm, about 200,000 of them in Gonaives, he said.

Latortue said the government was drawing up plans to evacuate some of the homeless to a tent camp.

Some victims, fearing the spread of disease, said they would abandon the city, Haiti's third largest, with 250,000 residents.

The director of the World Food Program's Haiti operation, Guy Gavreau, said aid groups had been able to get food to only about 25,000 people last week -- one-tenth of Gonaives' population.

The floods from Jeanne destroyed all of the rice and fruit harvest in the Artibonite region, Haiti's breadbasket, ''so now the country can't even feed itself without outside help,'' Gavreau said.

Planeloads of aid have arrived in Port-au-Prince, the capital, but getting it to Gonaives is a nine-hour nightmare drive, with the final leg of the route covered by a four-foot-deep lake of mud littered with mired aid trucks.

Sunday dawned sunny and bright, a relief after thunderstorms Saturday drenched those living on sidewalks and on rooftops of flooded homes.


At the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Charles Borromee, four people stood and prayed in the back, unwilling to venture into a disaster zone of overturned pews and trash ankle-deep in mud.

Outside, a woman among hundreds sheltering at the church brushed her teeth and spat toothpaste into the debris.

A couple walked up, shoes newly waxed and shining, for Mass in a makeshift chapel.

''We don't have anything, but we're doing our best,'' Joselyne Ashalus said in front of a classroom where she sleeps on the floor with eight other people.

''After all this, we have to be respectful and we have to thank God for saving us,'' said the 31-year-old mother, who was grateful that she saved her five children from the floods that destroyed their home.