The Heat Is Online

Torrential Flooding Kills Up To 3,3000 in Domincan Republic, Haiti

Floods Bring More Suffering to a Battered Haitian Town

The New York Times, May 29, 2004

MAPOU, Haiti, May 28 - Mapou is gone. So are a thousand people who lived here.

This was a town with outlying hamlets where perhaps 10,000 lived, or endured. They scratched a living from the earth, down in a steep green valley in the southeast corner of Haiti, in the deepest poverty of the Western world.

On Monday, "the rain started falling so hard, it was like the flood in the Bible," said Fernando Gueren, a farmer who lost his parents and his son in the deluge.

The river that runs through Mapou drowned the town on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Lt. Col. Duane Perry of the United States Marines flew down the valley in a helicopter after delivering aid to another devastated town, Fond Verrettes.

He looked down at a muddy lake with a few roofs poking through its shallows and said, "It looks like there was a town there."

That lake was Mapou. The town was under 25 feet of water, Colonel Perry said. The dead hung from the trees.

Standing amid tons of rice he helped carry to Mapou on Friday, he said the village elders had told him that at least 300 people were dead and that 700 more had vanished and were feared to have drowned. "We estimate about 1,000 dead" in Mapou, Colonel Perry said.

If so, Mapou is the most devastated place among the many damaged and destroyed in the floods that killed perhaps 2,000 people in Haiti and on its border with the Dominican Republic this week.

That toll remains an estimate, and may remain a rough guess for days. What is only now becoming clear is that "the magnitude of the disaster is much worse than we expected, with many, many more people affected," said Guy Gauvreau, director of the United Nations World Food Program in Haiti, who brought the rice, water and cooking oil that reached Mapou on Friday on an American helicopter.

"There are many other places around here, many towns, we know nothing about," he said in Mapou. These towns and hamlets, home to thousands of Haitians, remain cut off from the world by mudslides. It may take days more to reach them and tally their losses.

In Mapou, hundreds of survivors waited patiently to pick up a sack of rice, a jug of cooking oil, a bottle of water, their faces masked in sorrow, hunger and dread. They said that almost everything they owned, and many whom they loved, were gone. Most of the dead and missing were children.

"My family's all dead," said Pedro Nisson, 28, a traditional healer. "When the rains came, the people tried to flee to the hills, but the water drove them back."

Féry Destinée, 25, was a little more fortunate. "I have nothing," she said. "My family's alive, thank God, but my house and my fields are gone."

The waters that swallowed the town had receded by Friday but still stood 10 feet deep. The crops, chiefly corn, are destroyed. Goats and pigs have drowned. The wells are poisoned with bodies. Epidemics are likely, aid workers here said.

The torrent washed out all the roads that connected every village in its path to the capital, Port-au-Prince, where aid agencies warehouse their food. There is no chance that the roads can be repaired for weeks, maybe months, said Mr. Gauvreau, as he surveyed the wreckage of Mapou.

The gap between the aid that is being delivered now and the aid that is needed is enormous, he said. "Here in Mapou, we planned aid for 1,000 families, but 3,000 families are affected," he said, figuring on five people to a family.

In all, some 75,000 people in and around Mapou and Fond Verrettes, two of the hardest-hit Haitian towns, face "a continuing food emergency" for months to come, he said.

Fourteen helicopters of the American-led international military force that occupied Haiti after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled under United States pressure on Feb. 29 are now the lifeline for those tens of thousands of hungry, homeless villagers.

Almost all those helicopters belong to the United States military, which President Bush has said will leave Haiti in June after a mission intended to restore a measure of stability to the country.

"We rely on the military for airlift," Mr. Gauvreau said. Come summer, aid agencies may have to resort to barges, rafts and mules to carry food, medicine and shelter to a displaced population whose numbers may reach 100,000 or more.

"We can't survive like this much longer," said Charles Josié, 48, in Mapou.

A helicopter flight on Friday to Mapou from the devastated Dominican border town of Jimaní, roughly following the path of the flood, showed how this disaster was both natural and man-made.

While roughly five feet of rain fell Sunday and Monday, the water ran down land denuded of trees, over thin soil eroded by decades of slash-and-burn farming. The rain filled rivulets and rivers, running so hard down the steep and treeless slopes, until the raging muddy waters reached the valley that sheltered Mapou and engulfed it.

"Most people here work the earth, but the most desperate take the trees" to make charcoal, which sells for a few pennies a pound at market, said Mr. Gueren, the farmer in Mapou. "When they take the trees, there's nothing left to drink up the water.

"They wreck the land to survive," he said. "This is one of the problems of Haiti too great to solve with a sack of rice."

Many of the more than 300 confirmed dead in Jimaní were Haitians fleeing poverty. Jimaní's shacks were eradicated by a 100-yard-wide torrent, now a blank dry slash through the town. Little relief appeared to have reached Jimaní as of Friday morning.

Most of the town has fled.

Many of the dead lie in a common grave, and the missing are believed to have drowned in a nearby lake filled with crocodiles.

The government plans to spray the town with disinfectant from airplanes to slow or stop the spread of disease from the destruction.

There may be worse to come in Haiti, as the spring rains continue, and soldiers and aid workers struggle to reach still-lost villages with their small fleet of helicopters, and by running rivers on rubber dinghies.

After slavery under the French, two centuries of rulers who misruled and a shaky provisional government with almost nothing in its treasury, this disaster may not be the worst misfortune Haitians have ever suffered, but for now the suffering seems endless in Mapou.

"It's impossible to see how we will make it through the days to come," said Mr. Nisson, Mapou's healer.

AFTER THE FLOOD

Bringing Relief to Haiti's Poor, on the Backs of Mules

The New York Times, June 6, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti  Only one government holds true power over life and death in Haiti today.

Not the Haitian government, a group of penniless, powerless, provisional appointees; nor the United States government, whose military forces are pulling out after a three-month occupation, having landed hours after the fall of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first and only freely elected leader.

The true government of Haiti is a confederation of sweaty men and women in T-shirts, from South Dakota, Stockholm and a hundred other places: the stateless nation of aid workers, flying many flags but pledging allegiance only to the poor. By an off-the-cuff but conservative guess, aid workers help keep a million of Haiti's eight million people alive - and that was before the flood that struck this island and swept so many lives away.

Government by nongovernmental organizations has gone on in many failed or faltering states, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. (Such groups often face danger: Doctors Without Borders suspended operations in Afghanistan on Thursday after five of its workers were ambushed and killed.)

Though the United States government donates money and food, and the United Nations, a pale shadow of a world government, plays a crucial role through its many agencies, big bureaucracies have a hard time helping little villages, imposing top-down strategies on places needing help from the ground up. Washington's will changes with the political winds; the United Nations' wallet is thin.

So Haiti is in the hands of aid agencies and church groups working to ease the pain of flood, famine and political folly. The United Nations troops that are set to replace the American military as a security force have barely arrived. The troops have no transport helicopters and little money, and providing aid is not their priority. Haiti's provisional government has proved incapable of helping its people.

The flood, by this weekend, had left 2,600 people dead (or presumed dead) in Haiti, and at least 700 more (many of them Haitians) across the border in the Dominican Republic. The town of Mapou was hit the hardest. The flood took the lives of 1,600 people and left perhaps 10 times that number bereft in Mapou and the isolated hamlets surrounding it, though the true toll may never be known. Last week in Mapou, Prosper Baptiste, 39, who lived in the small village of Bois Tombé - Fallen Forest - said he lost 33 members of his extended family.

Mapou is named after a sacred tree in voodoo tradition. But almost all the trees of Haiti are gone, cut for charcoal sold for a few pennies a pound. So the hard rain swept down from the hills and the rivers burst their banks, taking everything in their path.

Last Sunday, five days after the rain let up, the aid agencies saw that the disaster was far worse than feared - roughly three or four times as bad, with 75,000 to 100,000 people needing long-lasting help.

On Monday, the United States military stopped using its heavy Chinook helicopters, the only such craft in Haiti, to ferry tons of United Nations food to the flood victims. A military spokesman here said that the crews and choppers needed rest, and that the immediate needs of the victims had been met. The American soldiers had orders to begin withdrawing from Haiti starting Tuesday, preparing to turn over the country to United Nations-led peacekeepers on June 20.

The aid agencies, furious at the American pullback, started seeking bulldozers to fix the washed-out roads to the cut-off villages and their own helicopters. The cost, they learned, would be staggering.

The only way to Mapou was on foot.

At 4 a.m. on Monday, Tammie Willcuts, 33, a native of Sioux Falls, S.D., who works for Save the Children and has labored in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, awoke in a mud hut on Haiti's southeast coast and laced up her hiking boots.

With her were colleagues from Catholic Relief Services, bringing food, cooking pots, cups and spoons, and workers from World Vision, carrying clothes and blankets. They had arrived at the fishing village of Anse-à-Boeuf on Sunday afternoon on a rickety wooden boat, after hearing that a footpath led from there to Mapou.

No outsider had visited at least a dozen flood-stricken villages along the way, where tens of thousands of people had received no aid in the week since the flood. Ms. Willcuts and her colleagues would be the first to reach some of these places, where deaths remain uncounted but are reported by villagers to be in the hundreds.

How word travels in Haiti is a mystery. When Ms. Willcuts awoke on Monday she saw "a corral of mules that the people of Mapou had taken down to the coast," she said in an interview. "They were there because they knew there was aid coming. Somehow word had spread to Mapou that these goods would land."

So the villagers had saddled up their mules and walked to the sea.

Ms. Willcuts set out north on the trail, nearly five hours of walking, "hotter than blazes, and no source of fresh water along the way," she recalled.

"There were mules coming down the trail from Mapou,'' she said. "Every fourth family had a mule with them. And there was this parking lot of mules at Anse-à-Boeuf. They loaded up the mules as best they could and started back home."

On the path to Mapou, the aid workers learned that the deliveries wouldn't begin to meet the need.

"First, there's Cibao, which has about 2,500 families, maybe 12,500 people,'' Ms. Willcuts said. "They had received no assistance. There were still areas totally covered with water. They said they didn't know how many people were dead. They'd received no aid, nothing.

"I got the names of nine other villages, where maybe 15,000 people lived, that had received no aid. These are extremely poor people who were barely hanging on before the flood."

With most roads still in ruins, and tons of food, water and medicine warehoused in the capital, word got out about the Mapou mule train. Haiti's mules would have to do when Chinooks no longer flew.

Kieron Crawley of Concern Worldwide, a charity based in Dublin, said he planned to carry supplies by truck to the town of Thiotte on Friday and use mules to reach "little towns that lie in a trail of destruction from Mapou down to the coast."

Yolette Etienne, Oxfam's coordinator in Haiti, said: "We can use mules to reach the most affected people in the countryside. We will truck water to Fond Verrettes," the second-hardest-hit town in Haiti, "and use the mules to take it to the little villages."

"The mules will come from the people," she said.

In 1821, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." In Haiti today, aid workers are the unacknowledged leaders of the nation.

Relief Teams Scramble as Caribbean Flood Toll Grows

Reuters News Service, May 28, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Rescue workers on Thursday rushed food, drinking water and first-aid kits to a remote Haitian town submerged by floods that killed an estimated 2,150 people on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

Across the border in the Dominican Republic, authorities prepared to spray disinfectant from aircraft over Jimani to prevent the spread of disease from decomposing bodies.

Overnight floods in the town killed hundreds of men, women and children and washed some of their bodies into a lake full of crocodiles.

An official on Wednesday reported 1,000 deaths in Mapou, a village southeast of Haiti's capital, dramatically raising the death toll from flash floods and mudslides triggered by torrential rains in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The toll in Haiti stood at about 1,800, while 350 bodies had been recovered in the Dominican Republic, mostly in Jimani.

Foreign troops sent to Haiti by the United Nations after a rebellion in February turned to relief efforts, providing helicopter flights to aid agencies trying to reach survivors isolated when roads were washed out across southeastern Haiti.

"Mapou is in the middle of a valley and the village is practically under water," said Lt. Col. David Lapan, spokesman for the multinational force. "It is like a lake when you look at it from the air."

Heavy rains last weekend sent rivers of mud and debris through villages, sweeping away shanties and burying residents on both sides of the Haiti-Dominican Republic border.

Haiti confronted its worst natural disaster in years less than three months after a rebellion killed more than 200 people and helped oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Helicopters provided by the 3,500-member U.S.-led peacekeeping force carried loads of beans, rice, water-purification tablets, shovels and other emergency supplies to Mapou, about 25 miles southeast of the capital, and to Fond Verettes, a border town where at least 158 died.

Thunderstorms grounded the flights late Thursday afternoon and brought more rainfall, adding to the misery.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and four out of five of its 8 million people live in poverty. The barren land is vulnerable to floods and mudslides because people have virtually stripped it of trees to make charcoal for cooking.

Even in the best of conditions, remote Mapou can take three or four hours to reach from Jacmel, the nearest city on the south coast, said Sheyla Biamby, a spokeswoman for Catholic Relief Services in Haiti.

"There is no road access," she said. "It is very alarming, not many people can reach it to bring food and water."

The parish priest in the nearby village of Bodari walked for hours to find a working telephone, finally getting a call through to the Catholic Church radio station in Jacmel to report he had counted 350 bodies in his village.

"There are a lot of corpses that are floating on the water that nobody can reach. The population has no water, no food, and all the houses have gone," the priest, the Rev. Salomond Jerome, told Radio Efata.

Floodwaters polluted the springs that provided drinking water, leaving residents thirsty and desperate.

"We dig the earth when we see water, we wait until it clears and we drink it. My daughter got sick, she has fever. We did not even have medicine to give her but we still have to drink the water. We have no other choice," said 40-year-old Bijo Cadet.

International aid groups pleaded urgently for help from around the world.

"The situation in Mapou is very, very dangerous and much worse than we expected it to be," said Roromme Chantal, information officer for the United Nations

Development Program.

Dominican Republic President Hipolito Mejia, who declared Thursday a national day of mourning, flew to Jimani and also appealed for international aid. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sent a planeload of food and relief supplies.

The Red Cross reported 350 dead in Jimani. Authorities said about 300 others were missing and 620 homes severely damaged.

Grief as Haitians and Dominicans Tally Flood Toll

The New York Times, May 28, 2004

 SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, May 27  Aid workers, soldiers and villagers struggled to save the living, find the lost and bury the dead in Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Thursday after floods that took everything in their path.

"We have nothing left," said Socorro Moquete, a 67-year-old grandmother in Jimaní, the most devastated town in the Dominican Republic. "The river took everything, even the dead in the cemetery."

Burials have been rough and rapid, and many hundreds of people remained missing three days after the spring rains made the rivers run wild. An accurate assessment of the death and damage may take days.

Government officials in both nations said the confirmed death toll from the devastating floods reached nearly 900 on Thursday. But they said it might go as high as 2,000, with the greatest losses in Haiti, making it one of the worst natural disasters in Caribbean history.

The death counts remain estimates from officials citing conflicting and sometimes second-hand information. They stood as high as 1,660 or more in Haiti, according to some government officials, and were confirmed at more than 300 in the Dominican Republic.

A total of at least 11,200 families, probably more, have been displaced by the flood in both nations, Red Cross workers here said. Thousands of homes and shanties have been destroyed in villages so poor and isolated that no one is exactly sure how many people lived there before the flood.

Two weeks of heavy rains, which continued Thursday, became a deadly torrent at dawn on Monday. In Haiti, as much as five feet fell in 36 hours on the town of Fond Verrettes, in a valley about 40 miles east of the capital, Port-au-Prince, officials said.

The rains washed away villages and hamlets clinging to the deforested hills along the border separating the two nations, which share the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean.

The death toll was so high, in part, because almost all the trees on those hills are gone, and the soil is eroded, leaving no natural barrier for the annual spring rains. The trees have been cut for charcoal, the only product with much market value in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.

The two hardest-hit areas in Haiti are in and around Fond Verrettes, where hundreds are dead and missing, and in and around Mapou, to the southeast, where at least 280 people are dead and as many as 1,000 are feared to have died, according to conflicting accounts given by Haitian officials.

International aid workers are still trying to reach towns and villages in Haiti's southeast, including Bodarie, Thiotte and Grand Gosier. Margareth Martin, the Haitian government's representative for the southeast region, placed the death toll in the Mapou area at 1,000 and said that rescue efforts were nearly impossible there because the roads were impassable.

Prime Minister Gérard Latortue planned to leave Haiti on Thursday for a summit meeting of Latin American and European Union nations in Guadalajara, Mexico, after blaming deforestation for the magnitude of the disaster and promising to create a forest protection unit made up of former soldiers of the demobilized Haitian Army.

Just across the border in the Dominican Republic, more than 300 people are dead and 375 still missing in and around the town of Jimaní, where the river burst its banks at dawn Monday, washed away hundreds of homes, killed cattle, destroyed crops and displaced more than 1,000 families, according to Dominican and Red Cross officials.

Jimaní residents and local authorities said the death toll might be higher, fearing that many people were buried under the mud or had been washed down to Lago Enriquillo, a lake about 19 miles to the southeast.

Jimaní was a town of about 15,000. Now its diminished population is seeking those who were lost, along with food, drinking water and clothing.

What was the La Cuarenta neighborhood, its poorest area, is now mud, rocks, branches and debris. Largely inhabited by Haitians, it had been built in a riverbed that had been dry for years.

La Cuarenta had several hundred small houses. All have been washed away. Those who lived there are dead or missing.

"The river took my daughter and two granddaughters," said Altagracia Recio, 54. "I lost everything."

The Dominican Republic's president, Hipólito Mejía, flew to Jimaní on Thursday for the first time since the disaster. So did the United States ambassador, Hans H. Hertell, who said, "This situation is grim, and we're looking at ways to get more money here."

Promised aid to the victims includes $50,000 from the United States, $42,000 from Canada, $100,000 from Japan and $2.43 million from the European Union.

Family and local private aid has been faster than international relief. Trucks and buses have been traveling to Jimaní since Tuesday with contributions from schools, businesses and individuals.

Jimaní was filled with "Haitians who had fled their country, many trying to make a living in a black market, selling second-hand clothes," said Cristina Estrada, a representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The Dominican Republic is poor, with a per capita income of about $2,000 a year, but Haiti is far poorer. Its annual per capita income is roughly $400.

And the floods in Haiti come at a difficult time, after an uprising that left more than 200 people dead and helped oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide this winter. A government cobbled together with the help of the United States remains nearly bankrupt, without many functioning agencies.

Among those trying to aid the living are members of the American-led multinational military force that occupied Haiti after Mr. Aristide fled three months ago under pressure from rebels and the United States government.

Lt. Col. David Lapan, a spokesman for the multinational force, said United States marines had been flying helicopters to Fond Verrettes and Mapou, in the southeastern region of Haiti, for several days, ferrying drinking water, food and plastic sheeting to shelter thousands of people left homeless by the flooding.

Mapou, he and others reported, is gone. The town lay in a valley now under as much as 10 feet of water rimmed by mud and rubble.

"In Fond Verrettes, they used what little flat land they had in the middle of this valley, which is what was flooded," Colonel Lapan said. "A flash flood rolled through the area, took what had been a dry streambed and expanded it by a few hundred meters and took everything in its path, and either swept it downstream or buried it right there."

The forecast called for more rain Friday, which could hamper efforts to deliver relief supplies. Using about half a dozen Marine helicopters, the interim force delivered about 18,000 liters of water and 500 boxes of fruit and bread, but flights may have to halt because of downpours, Colonel Lapan said.

The roads between Port-au-Prince and the worst-off towns remained impassable, making helicopters the only way to transport food, water and shelter.

Officials at the United Nations World Food Program in Haiti said they were struggling to get enough food for an estimated 15,000 people who had to flee their homes.

"We are trying to react as quickly as possible," said Iñigo Álvarez-Miranda, a spokesman for the food program in Port-au-Prince. "Even before this we were already operating in a country in a deep crisis."

The program feeds 500,000 of Haiti's 8 million people. The country's man-made misery has grown since the revolt that toppled Mr. Aristide, Mr. Álvarez said, and now this new natural disaster has deepened Haiti's despair.

Dominican, Haiti Floods Death Toll Nears 2,000

Reuters News Service, May 27, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The death toll from devastating floods and landslides in Haiti and the Dominican Republic rose to at least 1,950 on Wednesday with the discovery of more than 1,000 bodies in a Haitian town.

The toll rose dramatically when the bodies were found in Mapou, a rural southeastern Haitian town where communications are poor, said Margareth Martin, the head of the civil protection office for Haiti's Southeast region.

Rescue workers dug through mud and debris for bodies three days after torrential rains sent rivers of mud and swirling waters through Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Haiti's death toll stood at 1,660, including 1,000 in Mapou, 500 elsewhere in Haiti's Southeast region, 158 in the riverside town of Fond Verettes, and two in the south, at Port-a-Piment.

Authorities in the neighboring Dominican Republic said they had recovered 300 bodies, mostly from the disaster in Jimani near the Haitian border, where a river overflowed its banks before dawn and swept homes away as people slept.

In Haiti, troops from a U.S.-led peacekeeping force flew helicopter loads of bottled water, fruit and bread to the town of Fond Verette, where the storm washed out the winding mountainside road from Port-au-Prince and cut off ground transportation to the town of 40,000,

The floodwaters flattened fields of crops and ripped apart crude shacks fashioned from sticks and sheets of iron. Residents pulled furniture and other belongings from the streets, where they had been swept by the flood, and assembled mud-caked possessions in stacks along the sides of the roads.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas where the population of 8 million struggles for food and shelter. Four out of five people live in poverty and only a quarter of Haitians has access to safe drinking water.

The peacekeeping force, numbering about 3,500 foreign troops, was sent to Haiti to try to restore order after an armed revolt forced out former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February, the latest chapter in a long history of political upheaval in the country.

In the Dominican Republic, President Hipolito Mejia declared a day of national mourning for Thursday.

In the devastated Dominican town of Jimani, bodies were taken from the mud and from Lago Enriquillo, a lake where they had been swept by the raging waters. Corpses were found crushed against walls, clinging to tree trunks and buried in the mud.

Dogs trained to sniff out bodies were sent to join the recovery effort. Relief workers wore surgical masks against the stench of decomposing flesh and hauled bodies on stretchers, while rescuers hacked through the rubble of stick shacks with hatchets searching for corpses.

Many were buried in mass common graves. Authorities worried about diseases breaking out if bodies were left unburied. Bulldozers dug holes to bury others where they were found, in ground where buildings stood a few days ago.

Several hundred people were also still missing.

Survivors in Jimani said the flood waters reached 15 feet high.

Police officer Juan de la Cruz Mota Dotel said he lost two of his children and his wife in the disaster, along with 22 other members of his extended family. A third child, a 3-year-old daughter, survived, clinging onto a gravestone in a cemetery.

The Dominican Republic, a country of 8.5 million people, is more prosperous than its neighbor but still has areas of deep poverty.

Relief workers and supplies of medicines, food, blankets were pouring into the Jimani area. Army tents sprang up to shelter dozens of Dominican soldiers sent to help with relief efforts. A stream of helicopters flew in from the capital and trucks ferried wood to rebuild homes. A fire truck was used to clean mud from the local hospital.

The European Union was preparing a package worth $2.43 million for flood victims, the European Commission said in Brussels. The United States announced it was giving $50,000 dollars to help the relief effort and was sending two disaster experts to evaluate the damage. Japan also said it was giving $100,000 in emergency aid.

Floods Kill 500 in Haiti, Dominican Republic

Reuters News Service, May 26, 2004

FOND VERETTES, Haiti - Floods and mudslides have killed more than 500 people in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, many of them swept to their deaths when rain-swollen rivers burst their banks, authorities in the two neighboring Caribbean countries said on Tuesday.

In the hard-hit Haitian town of Fond Verettes, floodwaters rose from a previously dry riverbed and swept through the streets, washing away buildings or burying them under tons of rock and gravel. At least 158 people were killed in the town of 40,000, local officials said.

Margareth Martin, head of the civil protection office for the Southeast department, said at least 200 people were killed in that part of the country.

The flooding followed days of torrential rain on the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Thousands were left homeless in the two countries.

Canadian troops and U.S. Marines were flying helicopters with water and relief supplies to the worst-hit part of Haiti, said a spokesman for a U.S.-led peacekeeping force.

Some 135 people were killed in the Jimani area of western Dominican Republic, near the border with Haiti, and more than 200 people were believed to be missing, officials at an emergency operations center said. Ten people died in other parts of the Dominican Republic.

In Fond Verettes, 16-year-old Joane Saint Fort returned from a trip to the capital to find her home and family gone.

"I went to see my aunt in Port-au-Prince for the weekend. Now I came back and I cannot find my house," she said. "It was right here but there is no house. My mother and two younger brothers were living here."

The flooding scoured a section of town half a mile long and 1,000 feet wide. It swept away the town's tax office and courthouse. Only half of the police station remained.

"It appears there have been many victims that have been washed out of the village or may be buried underneath the rubble," said Col. Glen Sachtleben, chief of staff for the multinational task force in Haiti, as he stood among the rocks and gravel covering areas where buildings once stood.

At least 540 houses were destroyed or buried, another 1,500 were damaged and 3,000 people needed emergency aid, said a United Nations development official who toured the town.

In addition to those killed in Fond Verettes, about 40 people died in the southeastern part of Haiti and 20 more were reported dead at the border near Jimani, according to government sources and humanitarian officials.

"This is a disaster. We are calling on Haiti's friends to help," Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said after being flown to the disaster site on a Canadian military helicopter.

The foreign peacekeepers, who number about 3,500, are in Haiti to try to restore order after an armed revolt ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February.

Haiti, with a population of about 8 million, is the poorest country in the Americas. The Dominican Republic, 8.5 million people, is more prosperous, but parts of the country, such as the Jimani area, are still grindingly poor.

The devastation in Jimani occurred when a river burst its banks early on Monday, sending flood waters rushing through poor neighborhoods and destroying hundreds of fragile homes.

Several survivors told local media they had been asleep when the floods hit their homes.

"It was all very fast, I couldn't do anything," said Ramon Perez Feliz, who lost his sister and two nephews. "I was saved because the current threw me away, out of the river bed."

Television stations showed scenes of dozens of bodies piled up in the morgue at Jimani, many of them children and some caked with mud. Rescue workers said more dead could be buried under the mud and debris.

"It has been a great tragedy," said Dominican President Hipolito Mejia, who sent army doctors, medical supplies and food to shelters set up for people who lost their homes.

The Dominican weather service said that about 10 inches of rain fell in the last 24 hours in the Jimani area.

 

At Least 270 Die in Dominican Republic, Haiti Floods

Reuters News Service, May 25, 2004

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Reuters) - At least 270 people have been killed in floods in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, many of them caught in mudslides or swept away when rain-swollen rivers burst their banks, authorities in the two neighboring Caribbean countries said on Tuesday.

Canadian troops and U.S. Marines were flying helicopters with relief supplies to the worst-hit part of Haiti, said a spokesman for a U.S.-led peacekeeping force.

The flooding followed days of torrential rain on the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

About 110 people were killed in the Jimani area of western Dominican Republic, near the border with Haiti, and some 200 people were believed to be missing, officials there said.

In Haiti, up to 100 people were killed in the town of Fond Verettes and the surrounding countryside, and 40 more died in the southeast region of the country in the floods of the past two days, sources close to Haiti's Civil Protection Office said.

"The village itself, a large portion of it, has complete washed away," said Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a spokesman for the multinational force, said of the devastated town of Fond Verettes.

"The water swept down from the high ground, causing mudslides. The riverbed has covered structures and houses."

Twenty other people died in the south of the country near the Dominican border, said a spokesman for a local humanitarian organization.

The foreign peacekeepers, who number about 3,500, are in Haiti to try to restore order after an armed revolt ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February.

Haiti, with a population of about 8 million, is the poorest country in the Americas. The Dominican Republic, with a population of 8.5 million, is more prosperous, but parts of the country, such as the Jimani area, are still grindingly poor.

The devastation in Jimani occurred when a river burst its banks early on Monday, sending flood waters rushing through several poor neighborhoods and destroying hundreds of fragile homes.

RESIDENTS ASLEEP WHEN HOMES ENGULFED

Several survivors told local media they had been asleep when the floods hit their homes. "It was all very fast, I couldn't do anything," said Ramon Perez Feliz, who lost his sister and two nephews. "I was saved because the current threw me away, out of the river bed," he said.

Television stations showed scenes of dozens of bodies piled up in the morgue at Jimani, many of them children and some caked with mud. Rescue workers said more dead could be buried under the mud and debris.

"It has been a great tragedy," said Dominican President Hipolito Mejia, who sent army doctors, medical supplies and food to shelters set up for people who lost their homes.

About 50 of the dead in the Jimani area were Haitians who had crossed the border to live and work.

Power was cut in many areas and crops were reported waterlogged, but officials said that it was too early to give estimates of damage.

The Dominican weather service said that about 10 inches (25 cm) of rain fell in the last 24 hours in the Jimani area.


© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.

Caribbean storm death toll rises

BBCNews.com, May 25, 2004

Rescue teams are searching for hundreds of people reported missing in parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti hit by torrential rains.

At least 240 people have been killed in floods, officials say. Heavy rains have been falling for more than two weeks and more storms are expected.

The border areas of the two states on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola are among the worst affected.

Hundreds of homes have been flooded, and roads and power lines cut.

The Dominican town of Jimani on the border with Haiti - where two rivers overflowed their banks - and districts east of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, are among those worst hit.

A member of parliament for Jimani, Atila Perez, said 200 homes had been flooded and whole families were swept away.

At least 110 people have been found dead in the Jimani area.

Frantic relatives have been digging through mud for loved ones, as a makeshift morgue at the town hospital filled with corpses.

"They found my daughter," a distraught woman standing outside the morgue told AP news agency.

"Now I have to see if I have any family left."

Cut off

Air force and army teams have been searching for survivors in atrocious conditions.

The government has sent emergency teams, including hundreds of extra troops and about 25 ambulances, from the capital, Santo Domingo.

"We are co-ordinating urgent measures to rescue survivors and evacuate people who are in danger," said National Emergency Commission (NEC) chief Radhames Lora Salcedo.

Some 450 homes have been flooded across the country, Mr Salcedo said.

North-western areas of the Dominican Republic have been most badly hit by the rains, which cut off some roads and led to power cuts in at least 14 towns.

In Haiti, at least 130 people have been reported killed, according to local radio stations.

The dead were mostly from towns in the south-east of the country, near the Dominican border and Jimani.

In the neighbouring US territory of Puerto Rico, at least one man was missing and some 100 people had to flee their houses because of flooding, officials told AP.

Hundreds die in Caribbean floods

CNN.com, May 25, 2004

JIMANI, Dominican Republic -- At least 270 people have been killed in floods in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, officials in the two neighboring Caribbean countries say.

About 110 bodies were found Tuesday in the Jimani area of western Dominican Republic, near the border with Haiti, and 200 people were believed to be missing, officials there told Reuters.

Up to 100 people died in and around the Haitian town of Fond Verettes and 40 more died in the southeast region of the country, sources said.

Twenty others died near the Haitian-Dominican border in the south of the country, said a spokesman for a local humanitarian organization.

The rising waters from the Jimani river have swept away homes, cut utilities and prevented rescuers from reaching the hardest-hit regions.

Civil defense officials in both countries have been evacuating families to higher ground and said they feared the death toll will rise.Only a torrent of debris-filled mud flowed where houses once stood.

Bloated bodies caked with mud were piled in a hospital's makeshift morgue in western Jimani near the Haitian border.

Some of the corpses were left at the side of the road, waiting for relatives to identify and claim them.

Through the darkness, stunned townspeople roamed the streets, shocked over the gruesome scene, The Associated Press reported.

Because temperatures were soaring, the government was considering a mass grave.

About 300 Dominican soldiers and about 25 ambulances were being sent from the capital of Santo Domingo.

Victims were staying at shelters set up in churches or with family.

Several survivors told local media they had been asleep when the floods hit their homes. "It was all very fast, I couldn't do anything," said Ramon Perez Feliz, who lost his sister and two nephews. "I was saved because the current threw me away, out of the river bed," he told Reuters.

Television stations showed scenes of dozens of bodies piled up in the morgue at Jimani, many of them children and some caked with mud.

"It has been a great tragedy," said Dominican President Hipolito Mejia, who sent army doctors, medical supplies and food for survivors who had lost their homes.

The flood-ravaged area is one of the poorest in the Dominican Republic, a country of 8.5 million people that shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti.