As word of Jean-Claude Duvalier's ouster spread this morning, the streets of this crowded, squalid capital rang with joyous celebrations. Exuberant Haitians danced, sang, stood on their hands and shouted with glee, lifting soldiers onto their shoulders and shouting, "Long live the Army."
But by afternoon the celebration turned into acts of vengeance, many violent, against symbols of the Duvalier family and the Ton-Tons Macoutes, the security forces that kept him in power. After a mob stripped the trademark blue-denim uniform off one Ton-Tons Macoutes militiaman, a participant shouted, "You don't see no Ton-Tons Macoutes anymore!"
There were reports of at least 20 persons dead and 75 wounded in the rampaging, although those could not be confirmed independently.
There was looting and a large fire visible in the downtown area of the capital tonight, and mobs reportedly were roaming the streets well after a curfew was imposed.
On the Rue de la Liberte, in front of the presidential palace, a mob of about 100 persons chased after a pickup truck carrying members of the Volunteers for National Security, the official name for Duvalier's dreaded personal security force popularly known as Ton-Tons Macoutes. "We don't want any Ton-Tons Macoutes any more!" one bare-chested man screamed repeatedly at reporters.
Throughout the city, neighborhood barracks of the security force were burned down by raging mobs, and throughout the afternoon and evening, bursts of automatic-weapons fire could be heard.
A 2 p.m. curfew cleared the largest mobs from streets in the center of town, but huge throngs still marched through some sections of town by nightfall.
During the looting, shop windows were smashed in the business district along Rue Pavee and the Boulevard Dessalines. An automobile dealership owned by Ernest Bennett, Duvalier's father-in-law, was reported to have been attacked.
Also targeted for mob violence were the many symbols and monuments here that Francois and later Jean-Claude Duvalier had erected in honor of their now-fallen dynasty.
A statue of Francois holding Jean-Claude's hand as a little boy was ripped to shreds on the Boulevard Dessalines, a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy. Francois' gravesite also reportedly was attacked by wild mobs.
But while the violence was directed at the security forces and the symbols of the Duvalier government, the crowds seemed to offer only affection for Americans and for the green-uniformed Army troops who mingled easily in the throng, often hugging and kissing passing strangers.
Earlier today, a huge crowd passed in front of the U.S. Embassy, waving flags and shouting, "Vive l'Amerique!"
Thousands of wildly cheering people gathered around the office of Radio Soleil, the Catholic-run radio station whose Creole broadcasts had stirred up much of the anti-Duvalier sentiment here. The station, which was shut down by Duvalier under the state of siege declared last Friday, was back on the air by noon today.
A car carrying a banned opposition leader, who had been in hiding, was surrounded by a joyous mob as it weaved through the city's streets.
"I feel so proud today -- it's like the festival of independence for Haiti," said Ruffin Dorsainvil, 30, an air traffic controller. "So many people have been killed. Now we are free. Now we are going to work together to make a better life."
"I feel great!" Joselyn Dorlette, a 28-year-old medical doctor, shouted from her speeding car. "Everything is all right now!"
A 22-year-old man named Raymond Danielo carried a placard that read, in Creole: "Now I have my freedom!"
"Twenty-nine years, that's enough!" shouted Robert Bernard, 42, who was referring to the number of years of the Duvalier dictatorship. "We had help from the church, from the young people and from the situation in the country. I'm talking about people who have no money, no food, no jobs, no security."
Now, he said, "The people should do all they can to elect a good president who will serve the country."