GONAIVES, Haiti, Sept. 20 -- The death toll from a tropical storm that devastated parts of Haiti rose to 622 late Monday as search crews recovered hundreds of bodies carried away by raging weekend floods or buried by mud or the ruins of their homes, officials said.
In the wake of Tropical Storm Jeanne, the bodies of at least 500 people were filling morgues in the northwestern city of Gonaives, according to Toussaint Kong-Doudou, a spokesman for the U.N. mission. Fifty-six were killed in northern Port-de-Paix and 17 died in the nearby town of Terre Neuve, officials said.
Residents of Gonaives, in northwestern Haiti, were forced from their homes after Tropical Storm Jeanne brought lethal floods and mudslides to the city.
(Ariana Cubillos - AP)
"The water is high. As it goes down, we expect to find more bodies," Kongo-Doudou said.
Dieufort Deslorges, a spokesman for the government civil protection agency, reported another 49 bodies recovered in other villages and towns, most in the northwest.
Two days after lashing Haiti, Jeanne regained hurricane strength over the open Atlantic on Monday but posed no immediate threat to land. Since it developed last week, Jeanne has been blamed for at least 647 deaths, including 18 in the Dominican Republic and seven in Puerto Rico.
In Gonaives, a city of about a quarter-million, people waded through ankle-deep mud outside the mayor's office, where workers were shoveling out mud and doctors were treating the injured. Aid workers were helping a woman giving birth nearby.
Floodwaters destroyed homes and crops in the Artibonite region that is Haiti's breadbasket. A base housing Argentine peacekeepers also was mostly flooded.
Katya Silme, 18, said she, her mother and six siblings spent the night in a tree because their house was flooded. "The river destroyed my house completely, and now we have nothing. We have not eaten anything since the floods," she said, adding that she saw neighbors swept away in the waters on Saturday.
Nearby, two dead children lay on a porch, their faces covered with cloths.
Ronald Jean-Marie, 38, said that the waters tore down the concrete walls of his home in the slum neighborhood of Raboteau and that his neighbors, a woman and her two young children, had disappeared into the fast-moving current. "I don't know how it happened, but neighbors said the water came and they just vanished."
The storm struck four months after devastating floods along the southern border of Haiti and neighboring Dominican Republic. About 1,700 bodies were recovered after those floods, and 1,600 more people were missing and presumed dead.
Floods are particularly destructive in Haiti, a country of 8 million that is the poorest in the Americas, because it is almost completely deforested, leaving few roots to hold back rushing waters or mudslides.
Gonaives also suffered fighting during the February rebellion that led to the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and killed an estimated 300 people.
Argentine troops who are among more than 3,000 U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti treated at least 150 people injured by the floods in Gonaives, mostly for cuts on feet and legs, said Lt. Cmdr. Emilio Vera.
At the city's General Hospital, equipment, including the X-ray machine, was covered with mud, said Pierre-Marie Dieudonne, a doctor with the Catholic agency Caritas. He said there was a great need for antibiotics, food and water.
Many of the bodies in the hospital's morgue were children.
Three trucks carrying Red Cross relief supplies including tents and blankets rolled in Monday, but two were mobbed by people who grabbed blankets and towels. U.N. troops stood by watching. Only one truck arrived with tents at the mayor's office.
"Everyone is desperate," said Pelissier Heber of the Artibonite Chamber of Commerce. "The international community is not doing anything, so there's a general panic. The population is really mad because they were expecting more from the United Nations."