Across Haiti, a Scene of Devastation

After tearing through the Caribbean earlier this week, Hurricane Ike is taking direct aim at Galveston and Houston. The National Weather Service warns anyone that stays in low-lying coastal areas "may face certain death" if they refuse to evacuate. Ike is expected to hit with a 20- to 25- storm surge and winds of perhaps 115 miles per hour.
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

CABARET, Haiti, Sept. 9 -- Three times in the past month, the river rose toward Andre Jean Compae's cassava garden and three times, he watched it subside. So when his neighbors in this coastal Haitian town began running for safety as the latest rains came, Compae gathered his wife and seven children into one room to wait out the storm. It was nearly 2 in the morning and he had, after all, nowhere else to go.

"Now I have nothing left," he said.

The floodwaters from Hurricane Ike, the fourth tropical storm to ravage the Caribbean in less than a month, gouged out a swath of the riverbank, downed power lines, ripped up paved roads and swept away several homes, including Compae's, in this village outside of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Compae and his family escaped out a back door when the waters began washing through their house.

Caribbean nations have borne the brunt of the recent hurricanes, and nowhere more so than Haiti, the impoverished island nation with few resources to defend itself. The scene of calamity in Compae's neighborhood in Cabaret, where more than 40 people were killed in the storm, is replicated across wide expanses of the country, according to officials organizing the humanitarian relief effort.

"I have never seen a hurricane like this," Compae said, holding a machete by his side as he watched the water roil past the place where his house used to stand. "There is nothing even to repair."

The howling storm pushed on to Cuba on Tuesday, where it forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate their homes and killed at least four people. About 1.2 million people -- more than a tenth of Cuba's population, were forced to seek refuge.

State television said reservoir levels in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio were dangerously close to overflowing and flooding nearby communities and roads, the Associated Press reported.

Many in the region, where most of Cuba's famed tobacco is grown, were still without power and water from an earlier storm, the monstrous Hurricane Gustav, which struck Aug. 30. That storm damaged 100,000 homes and caused billions of dollars in damage, but didn't kill anyone because of massive evacuations.

Forecasters said Ike could now strengthen into a ominous Category 3 storm before slamming into Texas or Mexico this weekend.

Before Ike, which had been a Category 4 hurricane, struck Haiti on Sunday, the island was battered by storms Hanna, Gustav and Fay, all within the past month. In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne caused landslides that killed more than 2,000 people in Gonaives, Haiti's fourth-largest city. All told, hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes by the latest storm to hit Haiti. Estimates of the death toll range widely, from about 300 people to more than 500, but lack of access to the hardest-hit areas makes it difficult to know for sure. The already decrepit road network connecting the major cities and coastal towns has become impassable, aid workers say.

The worst devastation in Haiti is found in Gonaives, a city of more than 100,000 people along the northwestern coast. Much of the city remains submerged. Aid workers said 70,000 people had checked into official shelters and a similar number have taken refuge in makeshift ones or fled to the mountains.

Guirlene Frederique, a member of a UNICEF emergency team who worked in Gonaives, estimated that 60 percent of the city remained flooded Tuesday, some of it in water chest-deep. Electricity, beyond generators, is nonexistent, she said. She saw fights break out among hungry people grasping for food at the distribution centers.

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