Haiti descends into chaos
Friday, September 24, 2004
GONAIVES, Haiti -- Hungry, thirsty and increasingly desperate residents attacked each other in a panic to get scarce food and water Thursday as workers struggled to bury hundreds of corpses six days after the city was struck by Tropical Storm Jeanne.
More than 1,100 were killed and 1,250 are missing, and the toll was rising. The storm left 300,000 homeless in Haiti's northwest province, which includes the port of Gonaives.
Health workers feared an epidemic of disease in the country's third-largest city from the unburied dead, overflowing raw sewage, lack of potable water, and infections from injuries. Some people already were falling ill.
Police erected barbed wire around their station Thursday after shots were fired at the station overnight.
Most of the police also were left homeless by the floods, and their only vehicle wasn't working, officer Louis Francois said. Their helplessness enraged residents, who have started throwing rocks at the few riot police the government sent in to help.
"We were saved from the floods, but now my baby is sick," said Marilucie Fortune, 30, who gave birth to a son in a slum last weekend, as Jeanne pounded Haiti with torrential rain for 30 hours. Jeanne has since become a hurricane, churning toward the Bahamas with 105 mph winds and a track that forecasters say could lead to Florida this weekend.
Haiti's civil protection agency said more than 900 people have been treated for injuries, mostly cuts or gashes from debris. Medics from U.N. peacekeeping troops have pitched in.
The General Hospital -- still knee-deep in mud -- was out of commission, medical supplies are running out, and some aid trucks were unable to reach the city because part of the road was washed away.
Hundreds of people pushed through a wooden barrier to crowd into Gonaives' sole working clinic for treatment, where one doctor was on duty.
Workers dug new mass graves for bodies half-buried in the mud, trapped in collapsed homes or floating in floodwaters that still ran knee-deep in places.
"There are so many bodies, you smell them but you don't see them," said farmer Louise Roland, who like many held a lime to her nose to mask the stench.
Some residents of the seaside slum of Carenage had grown so desperate to get rid of the decaying corpses that they were burying the unidentified victims in their backyards. That could cause yet another health hazard since the bodies easily could be forced up from shallow seaside graves.
"We need surgical masks, water and food," said Frantz Bernier, who was burning tires to protest the lack of government help. "We don't have anything."
By Thursday, 1,105 bodies had been recovered -- the vast majority in Gonaives -- with 1,250 missing and nearly 1,000 injured, according to Dieufort Deslorges, spokesman for the government's civil protection agency.
"It's a critical situation in terms of epidemics, because of the bodies still in the streets, because people are drinking dirty water and scores are getting injuries from debris -- huge cuts that are getting infected," said Francoise Gruloos, Haiti director for the U.N. Children's Fund.
Limited distribution by aid workers left most people still hungry and thirsty.
"Trucking in clean water to Gonaives is a logistical nightmare," said Abby Maxman, the local director of CARE, an international humanitarian agency.
Aid agencies have dry food stocked in Gonaives, but few have the means to cook. Food for the Poor, based in Deerfield, Fla., said its truckloads of relief were unable to reach the city Wednesday. Troops from the Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping forcing were ferrying in supplies by helicopter.
Peacekeepers fired into the air Wednesday to keep a crowd at bay as aid workers handed out loaves of bread -- the first food in days for some.