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Storm's Toll Rises To 1,500 in Haiti

U.N. Sending More Troops to Keep Order

Associated Press
Sunday, September 26, 2004; Page A21

GONAIVES, Haiti, Sept. 25 -- The death toll from Tropical Storm Jeanne reached 1,500 Saturday, with 900 people still missing, Haitian officials said, as a thunderstorm drenched survivors living on rooftops and sidewalks.

U.N. peacekeepers said they were sending reinforcements to help keep order among desperate Haitians, who have been looting aid trucks and mobbing food distribution centers.


A man sleeps on a pew at a church in Gonaives, a city that was blacked out and where thousands were living on the street or sleeping on roofs. (Ariana Cubillos -- AP)

The interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, said at least 300,000 had been made homeless, most in the northwestern city of Gonaives, according to his adviser, Paul Magloire.

The government was considering a rotating evacuation of the mud-coated city to allow cleanup operations, Magloire said later. He said the plan was still under discussion, but that the idea was to move people to tent camps temporarily while workers cleaned and disinfected, neighborhood by neighborhood.

Jeanne, which has strengthened to a dangerous Category 3 hurricane, also battered the Bahamas with violent winds and torrential rains. The storm made a direct hit on the northwestern island of Abaco and its sustained winds quickened to 115 mph, making it the sixth major hurricane of the season. Forecasters said the storm could grow stronger before it hits southeast Florida.

Some neighborhoods were flooded under five feet of water on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, said Matt Maura, spokesman for the Bahamas emergency agency. The winds ripped up roofs and toppled trees, knocking out electric and telephone services in some areas.

There were no reports of deaths or serious injuries, though Freeport police said they used a tractor to rescue two power company officials whose truck was swamped by floodwaters.

In Haiti, gang members were trying to steal food from the hands of people at aid centers, and 140 Uruguayan soldiers were on their way to reinforce about 600 U.N. peacekeepers in this hard-hit city, said Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the U.N. mission.

"Security is one of our major concerns," he said.

Officials said that gangsters had forced their way into distribution centers and stolen food. Kongo-Doudou said troops had been able to chase them away without violence.

A U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator, Eric Mouillesarine, said people were mobbing relief workers and there was "nothing we can do."

U.N. troops from Argentina fired smoke grenades Friday when about 500 men, women and children tried to break into a schoolyard where CARE International was handing out grain and water to an orderly line of women. The sunburned, unwashed flood victims returned in surges once the air cleared.

The director of the World Food Program's Haiti operation, Guy Gavreau, said Friday that aid groups had been able to get food to only about 25,000 people this week, one-tenth of Gonaives' population.

During the night, lightning bolts lit the sky above the blacked-out city, thunderclaps exploded and sheets of rain lashed the thousands living on the street and on concrete roofs of flooded homes.

The rain cleared Saturday morning, but floodwaters rose again in some mud-coated areas of the city that had dried out in the week since Jeanne struck.

Some people said they hoped to evacuate the city.

"If one person gets sick, we'll all be sick," said Ysemarie Saint-Louis. During the thunderstorm, she spent the night on her roof with more than 30 relatives who crowded under a small tin shelter. When the rain let up, they went back to sleep on wet mattresses and blankets.


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