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Over 2,000 feared dead in Haitian city after floods
GONAIVES, Haiti (AFP) Sep 28, 2004
Devastating floods unleashed by Tropical Storm Jeanne are feared to have killed more than 2,000 people in the northern Haitian city of Gonaives, the city's mayor said Monday, as searchers keep discovering more bodies 10 days after the storm struck.

Thousands more remain homeless after torrential rains and floodwaters ripped through this coastal city, 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Port-au-Prince.

The government, international aid groups and UN peacekeepers are trying to bring disaster relief, but gangs of men wielding metal bars have attacked food convoys arriving in Gonaives.

"We don't have an exact toll yet, but our calculations surpass the estimates given by the civil protection authorities," Gonaives mayor Calixte Valentin told local radio.

Civil protection authorities put the official death at least 1,514, with 952 remaining missing.

Gonaives has a population of between 200,000 and 250,000 people.

The city was wrecked by the storm. Hundreds of inhabitants have set up temporary homes in Gonaives' central cathedral, while health officials fear outbreaks of diarrhea and typhoid fever.

Valentin said another 50 corpses were recovered in the Dolan neighborhood where they had been buried in a mass grave.

"In total, 10 common graves have been dug for bodies that we have found in recent hours among the rubble of destroyed homes, under mounds of mud and along the shoreline where bodies have been washed up by the sea," the mayor said.

Valentin criticized what he said was a lack of security and order in the distribution of much needed food and aid.

International troops in a UN peacekeeping force have been mobilized to secure key food distribution points and stop them being over-run by starving Haitians.

The troops fired warning shots into the air and detonated tear gas over the weekend to disperse mobs who threatened to ransack some food centers.

Haiti's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue on Sunday raised the prospect of temporary evacuations in Gonaives.

"We're studying the possibility of evacuating parts of the city, by neighborhood, in order to clean and disinfect homes to diminish the risk of epidemics," Latortue said.

Further aggravating aid efforts, the main hospital in Gonaives was also struck by the floods, which are believed to have killed several hundred bedridden patients.

One of the world's poorest countries, Haiti has the worst deforestation in the western hemisphere, depriving many areas of natural protection from flooding. It had already been ravaged by killer floods in May and deadly civil strife earlier this year.

Countries from the Americas and Europe have pledged emergency funds and shipped several tonnes of aid, including food and medicine.

The Vatican announced Monday that Pope John Paul II had ordered the donation of 100,000 dollars to flood victims in Haiti.

The money is earmarked to buy drinking water, food and medicine for the victims of the deadly storm which struck Haiti on September 18. It also ravaged the neighboring Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Colombia announced Monday it was sending 25 tons of food and medicine to Haiti and Grenada, which was hit hard by Hurricane Ivan.

The aid will be flown to both countries on Tuesday aboard a Colombian Air Force Hercules airplane.

OAS Secretary General Miguel Angel Rodriguez urged nations across the Americas to do more for Haiti.

"Our challenge in Haiti is enormous," Rodriguez said at the opening of the annual Panamerican Health Organization's (PAHO) annual meeting here.

"We cannot be indifferent to its people," he said, adding that the situation in the Caribbean nation is "a gigantic challenge for the social conscience of the Americas."

According to PAHO figures, the average Haitian dies at the age of 50, one-quarter of children suffer from chronic malnutrition and half of the population lacks drinking water and medicine.

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