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Floods bring despair and devastation to storm-struck Haiti

A man observes a flooded street at the Saint Marc City some 96 kilometers north of Port Au Prince on September 07, 2008. With severe flooding, hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands lacking food and basic provisions, Haiti has been hit badly so far this hurricane season, with four severe storms in less than four weeks. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
L'Estere, Haiti (AFP) Sept 7, 2008
Desperate, starving Haitians trudged through muddy water away from the flooded northern city of Gonaives Sunday, a grim echo of devastation four years ago from Hurricane Jeanne, in which 3,000 died.

After a battering from three storms in as many weeks, Haiti's inhabitants despaired at a fourth, Hurricane Ike, which left some 47 dead after clipping the country's northern peninsula Sunday, the prime minister said, bringing the total to around 600.

Many feared the toll could climb higher after massive flooding over the past week in the poorest country in the Americas triggered a worsening humanitarian crisis.

"The water rose again this morning after subsiding since Tuesday. And we're hungry," said Nicolas Jean-Charles on the flooded road in northern Haiti, lifting his T-shirt to point to a hollow stomach.

As aid operations struggled to get off the ground, bridges collapsed, homes were washed away and crops ravaged.

"It's four times worse than Jeanne. Water didn't come this far then. And it rose again last night," said Pierre-Louis Nerilan, hosting four families whose houses had flooded several kilometers from Gonaives.

Some 650,000 Haitians have been affected by the flooding, including 300,000 children, and the task of delivering crucial aid has been complicated by dismal transport conditions, according to UNICEF.

Hundreds of bodies were found in Gonaives after a five-meter (16-foot) wall of water and mud engulfed much of the town.

Disaster victims spilled out of two school buses several miles outside the city Sunday.

"They're around 300 of us," said 24-year-old Denis Sanon, surrounded by a group of teenagers. "I've been here since Wednesday. No one is looking after us, there's no water or food."

Sanon said he fled Gonaives after water levels reached five-meters, but that his parents had remained behind.

"I spoke to my father on the telephone this morning. He told me that he couldn't go out because of the wind and rain," he said.

Nearby, clay and straw houses bathed in 50 centimeters (20 inches) of muddy water, surrounded by soaked fields of corn, and the tips of gravestones jutted out above the water in a village cemetery.

Further away, in the small town of Estere, among street hawkers, cars and goats, scores squeezed past each other to fill a myriad of buckets from a yellow farm truck distributing water.

The police commissioner in Gonaives told AFP by telephone that he only had around 50 officers struggling to help rescue efforts in the city of some 300,000.

"Usually there aren't enough police in this town. At the moment, we're simply overtaken by events," said Ernst Dorfeuille.

"Two Haitian police vehicles were swept away in floods, and water is coming in the police station too."

Local police officers struggled to cope in the first days of the catastrophe, before Argentinian soldiers from UN forces in the city were joined by reinforcements of heavy-duty vehicles and helicopters.

But help sent from the capital, Port-au-Prince, was blocked after a key bridge collapsed, cutting off the flood-stricken city from desperately needed aid Sunday.

At one point outside the city, the road to Gonaives suddenly disappeared in an immense sandy-colored lake.

On the horizon, sheets of rain crashed down on the sinking city.

Dorfeuille said police there were still working around the clock, despite lacking food and supplies like the rest of the population, and looking after some 240 hungry prisoners from the local jail.

"I'm organizing the police station, we're trying to keep our spirits up," he said.

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600,000 evacuate as Cuba braces for Hurricane Ike
Havana (AFP) Sept 7, 2008
Barely a week after Hurricane Gustav devastated western Cuba, the island was battening down the hatches again Sunday for another killer storm, with more than half a million people evacuating Cuba's northeast coast, officials said.

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