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Disease Stalks Haitian City in Wake of Storm

Gonaives Struggles to Bury Its Dead As Toll Exceeds 1,100; Many Others Ill

By Amy Bracken
Associated Press
Friday, September 24, 2004; Page A14

GONAIVES, Haiti, Sept. 23 -- Hungry, thirsty and increasingly desperate residents attacked each other in a panic Thursday to get scarce food and water as workers struggled to bury hundreds of corpses five days after the city was struck by Tropical Storm Jeanne.

More than 1,100 people were killed and 1,250 are missing, and the toll was rising, officials said. The storm left 250,000 homeless in Haiti's northwest province, which includes the port of Gonaives.

_____Jeanne's Aftermath_____
Photo Gallery: In Haiti, survivors now face receding floodwaters, unburied bodies and an overflow of raw sewage.

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 have already fallen ill.

Police erected barbed wire around their station Thursday after shots were fired at the building overnight.

Most of the police were left homeless by the floods, and the station had only one vehicle, which was not 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 last weekend as Jeanne pounded Haiti with torrential rain for 30 hours. The storm has since become a hurricane, churning toward the Bahamas with 105 mph winds on a track that forecasters say could bring it to Florida this weekend.

Haiti's civil protection agency said more than 900 people had been treated for injuries, mostly cuts or gashes from debris. Medics with U.N. peacekeeping troops have pitched in.

The city's General Hospital, still knee-deep in mud, was not functioning, medical supplies were running out and some aid trucks were unable to reach the city because part of the road had been washed away.

Hundreds of people pushed through a wooden barrier to seek treatment in Gonaives' sole working clinic, 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.

Some residents of the seaside slum neighborhood of Carenage were burying the decaying corpses of unidentified victims in their backyards. That could become yet another health hazard, since the bodies could easily be forced up from the 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 -- most of them 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 of food and water by aid workers did little to abate most people's hunger and thirst.

"We can only drink the water people died in," complained Jean Lebrun, a farmer.

Aid agencies have stocks of dry food in Gonaives, but few have the means to cook. Food for the Poor, based in Deerfield Beach, Fla., said its trucks carrying relief supplies were unable to reach the city Wednesday. Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping troops, who had been assigned to the country in the aftermath of political violence in February, were ferrying in supplies by helicopter.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies appealed for $3.3 million to fund relief operations, and several nations were sending help.


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