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Panic Hits Haiti's Storm Survivors

By Amy Bracken
Associated Press
Saturday, September 25, 2004; Page A13

GONAIVES, Haiti, Sept. 24 -- U.N. troops fired smoke grenades Friday as crowds of Haitian flood victims tried to break into a food distribution site, demonstrating growing desperation at the slow pace of relief since Tropical Storm Jeanne devastated the city.

At least 1,160 people were killed in last weekend's storm and crews are continuing to find bodies in the mud and debris. Another 1,250 people remain missing.

People struggle to grab food and water from a relief truck in Gonaives, Haiti. Tens of thousands are without supplies. (Walter Astrada -- AP)

_____Storm Wrecks Haiti_____
Photo Gallery: Jeanne devastates Haiti. At least 1,100 were killed by the storm.
Interactive Photo Gallery: Satellite images of Gonaives, Haiti, in the wake of Jeanne

About 500 people gathered at a Roman Catholic school where CARE International passed out food to women only, in hopes of reducing the crowds. The crowd swelled, however, and men, women and children tried to push through an iron gate.

Argentine U.N. troops fired grenades, chasing people away. But the sunburned, unwashed flood victims surged back once the air cleared of smoke.

"We need everything -- bread, clothes, clean water, food," said Mosau Alveus, 25, who arrived at the school at 6 a.m. and came away hours later with a single bag of grain.

Genevieve Montaguere, a nun from Guadeloupe, said the school distributed food for 1,000 families but ran out of drinking water.

Mud has formed a crust across this city of 250,000. Hungry and thirsty survivors -- some of whom lost entire families and everything they owned in last week's floods -- were becoming increasingly distressed.

"This is crazy," said Arito Ferreira, a Portuguese police officer who is one of the 650 U.N. peacekeepers in Gonaives. "People will get hurt."

An 18-wheeler carrying relief supplies from the Church of God was attacked by residents when it entered the city. People jumped on the moving truck, pried open the doors and threw out boxes of supplies. Troops shoved and pushed crowds off the truck.

"It's dangerous and difficult, but we have to come here," said Keteline Richards, 24, who lined up at the school for a second day seeking aid.

The food carriers battled their way to Gonaives from the port of St. Marc to the south, fording floodwaters and mudslides that remain a hazard on National Route 1. At least three truckloads of aid were mired in ditches along the flooded road Thursday.

Floodwaters finally receded Friday in the seaside slum neighborhood of Raboteau, one of the hardest-hit areas. Mud caked over animal carcasses and storm debris, and people rushed to clean mounds from their homes, those without shovels using branches from downed trees.

The city's General Hospital was not functioning because of knee-deep mud believed to still hold bodies, and medical supplies were running out. Health workers feared an outbreak of waterborne diseases. "It's a critical situation in terms of epidemics," said Francoise Gruloos, Haiti director for the U.N. Children's Fund.

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