Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Haitians mob aid efforts

NIGHTMARE Losing patience at the slow pace of relief efforts since Tropical Storm Jeanne, people have attacked aid trucks and buried corpses in their yards

AP , Gonaives, Haiti

Residents of Gonaives, Haiti, fight over a box of toothpaste in their desperation for food on Thursday, six days after the city was struck by Tropical Storm Jeanne.

PHOTO: AP

Survivors traumatized by the ongoing toll from Tropical Storm Jeanne, which has claimed more than 1,100 lives and left tens of thousands without basic needs, are burying unclaimed corpses in mud-clogged backyards and attacking aid trucks and even neighbors bringing food.

"You don't want to make me use this!" one man waving a wrench yelled at people carrying cauldrons of food to distribute at a church. The well-intentioned food carriers had battled their way through from the port of St. Marc to the south, using a multi-wheeled truck to ford floodwaters and mudslides that remain nearly a week after the passage of the storm.

Hungry and thirsty survivors -- some of whom have lost entire families and everything they own -- were losing patience at the slow pace of relief to the horror.

People were defecating on streets still knee-deep in contaminated mud that was slowly caking over bodies, animal carcasses and debris like treacherous pieces of torn-off zinc roofs that are slashing into barefooted survivors.

Limes have become a hot item in the devastated city of 250,000 because people hold them to their noses to relieve the stench.

Still, some presented opposition when officials tried to continue with mass burials, started with more than 100 bodies on Wednesday.

A reporter watched people stop the burial of a truckload of bodies. Some demanded money, presumably cemetery workers. Others objected to the burial with no religious rites -- many Haitians believe a corpse interred without ceremony will wander and commit evil acts.

Other protesters wanted officials to recover bodies in waterlogged surrounding fields, and to help search for the missing.

Many believe they are dead -- washed to sea, under the mud, or floating in still-inaccessible areas.

"They may be presumed dead," said Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, a spokesman for the UN stabilization mission in Haiti, which put the missing at 1,251. He said the UN, with scores of rescue workers in the area, said 1,113 bodies had been recovered and 297,926 people were homeless in Haiti's northwest province -- with the vast majority of victims in Gonaives.

In Gonaives' seaside slum of Carenage, people were burying bodies of unidentified victims in shallow graves of waterlogged yards -- an area from which they could easily be forced up.

Earlier, scores of pushing and shoving people jumped on a dump truck carrying relief supplies collected by Rotary Club members from Port-au-Prince. The truck tried to drive away but the crowd emptied it of food, water, surgical gloves and matches in about 10 minutes.

One man hit people with a metal bar to force his way to the front.

"We collected all these supplies ... But at least it will find its way to people in need," Rotarian Gaetan Mentor said.

Rebel leader Wynter Etienne disagreed, saying people were getting "angry and aggressive" because limited food distribution was taking place in the city center, so the same people were getting relief each day while others starved.

Etienne's Cannibal Army gang spearheaded a February rebellion that was soon joined by soldiers from Haiti's disbanded army. They forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power. The US sent troops that handed over to a UN peacekeeping force, but the rebels' refusal to disarm has meant ongoing instability.

Haiti, a country of 8 million people, has suffered 30 coups d'etat fed on endemic poverty. This week's were fueled by deforestation that left surrounding valleys unable to hold the rain unleashed by some 30 hours of pounding by Tropical Storm Jeanne.

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