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Calamity in the Caribbean

Monday, October 4, 2004; Page A22

IN HAITI the bodies are still turning up. Reports from the island republic mention Haitians shoveling corpses out from under branches and mud -- the detritus of Tropical Storm Jeanne and the floods it triggered last month. Perhaps 2,000 are dead, and more may be missing. In tiny Grenada, whose landmass is scarcely twice that of the District, 90 percent of the buildings on the island were damaged by Hurricane Ivan. The hurricane also decimated Grenada's nutmeg trees, which take a decade to become productive, and devastated hotels, mainstays of the tourist industry that provides the island with 70 percent of its income.

The storms paused long enough in the Caribbean on their way to Florida to deliver knockout blows to the bantamweight islands. Americans fixated on Florida may have barely noticed, but the destruction and suffering in the islands was overwhelming. The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and St. Lucia -- all were damaged. Grenada's recovery will take years.

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Haiti, no stranger to calamity, is suffering a catastrophe. An estimated 300,000 people have been made homeless by floods. In the northwest, where Jeanne unleashed much of its wrath, food and potable water are scarce. Highways are cut or impassable; Port-de-Paix, a town of 45,000 on the north coast, is reachable only by air. In the port of Gonaives, Haiti's third-largest city, marauding gangs desperate from thirst and hunger have attacked trucks hauling bottled water and depots holding humanitarian food stockpiles. Fears of famine are rising, since flood waters and mud covered some of the most fertile acres in the country. Poverty, deforestation and the virtual absence of effective government all conspire to deepen the misery.

President Bush has proposed $12.2 billion in aid for hurricane-damaged areas, mostly in Florida and other Southern states. The package includes $50 million for the islands, nearly half of it for Haiti. We hope Congress passes it quickly, but let's be blunt: The amount set aside for the Caribbean nations is a pittance -- not to mention a fraction of what was spent on U.S. military interventions in Haiti and Grenada.

Americans who wish to help may send their own donations. One conduit for such private support is CARE, which has been active in Haiti for 50 years and is deeply involved in the current relief efforts. Information is available at www.careusa.org.

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