Saturday, September 6, 2008

Death toll in Haiti rises and tens of thousands displaced

An ambulance makes its way through a flooded street in Gonaives, after the passing of Tropical Storm Hanna. The European Commission launched "fast-track" aid action for Haiti, after the storm-hit Caribbean island appealed for international help.© 2007 AFP Thony Belizaire

At least 495 bodies have been found in the mud-heaped port city of Gonaives, where thousands survived by climbing on rooftops

THE death toll in Haiti has climbed beyond 500 people after the area was hit by a hurricane. While Hurricane Hanna did little damage as it raced past the Bahamas and posed only a moderate threat to the US East Coast, the death toll in Haiti has risen steadily as the floods unleashed by its torrential rains began to recede.

At least 495 bodies have been found in the mud-heaped port city of Gonaives, where thousands survived by climbing on rooftops, bringing the death toll to 529.

Ships and planes have begun to arrive with desperately needed aid for Haiti, which has been hit by three deadly storms in less than a month.

US authorities declared a state of emergency, several North Carolina beach communities were under evacuation orders and campgrounds were shut.

Storm alerts were issued from Georgia to New Jersey, as the eighth tropical storm of the hurricane season threatened the East Coast with flash flooding.

And Hurricane Ike initially looked far more threatening. However, it weakened as it charged across the Atlantic on Friday.

The US National Hurricane Center said Ike was expected to remain a "major" storm of Category 3 or higher.
© 2007 AFP Thony Belizaire's aerial view on September 5 of Gonaives after the passing of Tropical Storm Hanna.

The European Commission launched "fast-track" aid action for Haiti, after the storm-hit Caribbean island appealed for international help.

International emergency aid was providing a tentative lifeline to hundreds of thousands of displaced Haitians without food or water who faced "catastrophic" conditions after a trio of fierce storms devastated the impoverished nation.

Several tons of critically needed relief supplies were trickling in Friday to hard-hit communities in a country where at least 163 people have been killed by Tropical Storm Hanna, which deluged Haiti early this week just eight days after Gustav caused some 77 deaths.

Tropical Storm Fay two weeks ago killed another 40 people in the country.

The worst-hit city was Gonaives, Haiti's third largest and on the northwest coast, which was flooded after being hit by Hanna Monday and Tuesday, leaving some 200,000 people with little food or water since the storm.

Senator Yuri Latortue, who represents Gonaives, called the situation "catastrophic."

"I know perfectly well that the hurricane season has hit our entire country, but the situation in Gonaives is truly special, because now some 200,000 people there haven't eaten in three days," he said.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) earlier this week began flying helicopter to Gonaives to rescue those stranded by the high water.

At least 119 of the Hanna deaths occured in the northern Artibonite region, where Gonaives is located, civil protection officials said.

Haiti's Senate voted late Thursday to declare a state of emergency in the city, 152 kilometers (94 miles) north of Port-au-Prince.

A boat docked Friday at Gonaives carrying UN World Food Programme (WFP) supplies including food, drinking water and hygiene kits for thousands who were displaced by the latest storm.

"WFP has first-rate logistics, and this storm is putting us to the test," WFP representative in Haiti Myrta Kaulard said, adding that the agency was "anticipating further emergency needs from approaching storms."

Haiti had pleaded for emergency international aid after the conga line of storms laid waste to parts of Hispaniola, the island Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic.

"The United Nations is in the process of launching an emergency international appeal," Elisabeth Byrs of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in Geneva.

Switzerland promised aid worth one million Swiss francs (901,000 dollars) and the US Agency for International Development has allocated 100,000 dollars to help the impoverished Caribbean republic, OCHA said.

In Brussels, the European Commission launched "fast-track" aid action for two million euros to provide relief for Haitians, the EU's executive arm said.

The Red Cross said it launched an urgent appeal Friday for 2.3 million euros (3.4 million dollars) for Haiti.

Thousands of Red Cross volunteers "are working round the clock" to help the mounting number of victims, the organization said in a statement.

Mountainous Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas with more than 70 percent of the population in poverty, is especially prone to flash-flooding and mudslides. Haitians have cut down most trees and bushes to make cooking fires, which causes erosion and worsens flooding.

The airport in the capital Port-au-Prince reopened Wednesday, allowing a group of UN experts to evaluate the extent of the damage.

"Nine out of 10 regions in Haiti were seriously affected as a result of the double impact of the tropical storms Gustav and Hanna," OCHA said.

NOTE from Blogger: ### Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. One out of every eight children in Haiti will not live to see their fifth birthday because a preventable disease will claim their precious, young lives.###

Michele Pierre-Louis, Haiti's new prime minister approved Friday to take office after four months of political standstill, now will have to manage a grim humanitarian crisis.

President Rene Preval said he was distressed by events and urged the international community to rally to Haiti's aid.

The Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has sent five tonnes of aid, including emergency kits and tarpaulins.

France was sending a ship to Haiti with a helicopter aboard to help with search and rescue operations and channelling aid to the hardest hit areas. Spain also was sending four jetloads of humanitarian aid to Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica.

Meanwhile Hurricane Ike was forecast to spare Haiti as it plowed across the Atlantic and into the Bahamas, US National Hurricane Center forecaster Karina Castillo said in Miami.

"At least for now" Haiti looks likely to be spared yet another hit, she said, adding that Ike may graze northeastern Cuba.

Ike is forecast to then make landfall in south Florida on Wednesday as a major hurricane.

Densely populated south Florida, including the cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, has not been hit by a major hurricane since devastating Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Andrew was the costliest natural disaster in US history until it was topped by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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